Sunday, June 2, 2013
You will be changed into Me! | Corpus Christi
HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF JESUS, June 2, 2013:
During a celebration of First Holy Communion, the priest was trying to help the children understand what Holy Communion is all about. He said, "The Bible tells us that Holy Communion is a 'joyful feast'. So, what does that mean? Well, 'joyful' means happy,” he said, “And a feast is a meal. So a 'joyful feast' is a happy meal.” Turning to the kids, he asked, “So, who can tell me what elements we need at Mass for it to be a happy meal?" A little boy put up his hand immediately and said, "I know: a hamburger, fries, and a regular coke."
In the 13th Century, an Augustinian nun, Sr. Juliana of Liège in Belgium had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect except for a dark spot which a voice told her represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Eucharist. Juliana had tremendous devotion to the Eucharist and so she worked tirelessly for the Church to establish a feast. This led to today’s feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or more simply, Corpus Christi first introduced into the church calendar in 1264. This was a time in history when devotion to the Eucharist and respect for the Body of Christ was very low. In fact, many of the rules that we know today about reserving the Eucharist in tabernacles, genuflecting when entering and leaving a church, and treating the Eucharist with respect come from this time.
This continues to be an important feast in our own day because we too live in an era where there is a loss of respect for the dignity of the Eucharist among Catholics. We see it every week perhaps most profoundly in the way that too many Catholics today don’t seem to think there’s any special reason to go to Mass each Sunday any more, as though God has somehow eliminated the Commandment to “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” A study published a few years ago showed that only 31% of American Catholics attend Mass each week (down from more than 70% just 40 years ago) and43% of U.S. Catholics think that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is only a symbol.
So today’s feast is a wonderful opportunity to give God collective thanks for Christ's abiding presence with us made visible in the Eucharist. It is also an opportunity to be drawn more deeply into our own understanding of the Body and Blood of Christ – the greatest of the Seven Sacraments Christ gave us.
So, what does this celebration hope to accomplish for us? Something so simple and yet something so profound – the simple reminder that Jesus Christ is real and that He is right here in our midst. Before Jesus ascended to the Father, He promised to be with us until the end of time. In the Eucharist He provides the means of being present to us in a real physical way and of us being present to Him. Have you ever stopped to realize that since the moment the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary more than 2,000 years ago and she became pregnant with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has been physically present on earth? Not a moment has passed since then that Jesus hasn’t been with us? He was with us in bodily form for the following 33 years; and He has been with us bodily in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood since. Jesus is real.
Sometimes, I think, we get too familiar with the Mass. We are so used to our Sunday routine that we miss the supernatural and heavenly drama that unfolds before us each week. In the early Church, there was great appreciation for this moment. Listen to this example from the 4th Century. This is from St. Ambrose instructing catechumens on the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully – that Jesus is real! The Jesus that appears on this altar is real and in our midst!
Likewise, a more contemporary example. This one from Blessed Pope John Paul II in a letter he wrote for Holy Week 2002. He said, “Before this extraordinary Eucharistic reality we find ourselves amazed and overwhelmed, so deep is the humility by which God ‘stoops’ in order to unite himself with us! If we feel moved before the Christmas crib, when we contemplate the Incarnation of the Word, what must we feel before the altar where, by the poor hands of the priest, Christ makes his Sacrifice present in time? We can only fall to our knees and silently adore this supreme mystery of faith.” My brothers and sisters, the profound question that God places in your heart today is this: Are we like the 43% who look at this action and just see some meager bread and wine or do we believe in the depths of our hearts that Jesus is real – that this Jesus is real and present to us? If the answer is “yes” then we’ve got to be like the early Christians and that belief has got to be translated through the example of our lives into so much more than words – it must be lived!
God accomplishes this incredible action at each and every Mass through the work of the Holy Spirit and the hands of the priest – mere bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood – the very real and abiding presence – of His Son. And it doesn’t end there. What God does to the bread and wine, He wants to do to us through our participation. God wants to transform us; to consecrate us; to change us into what is holy. He takes that bread from the ordinary and makes it divine. He wants to reach down and grab us out of our ordinariness and lift us up and transform us into something holy; something like Him; something like His Son!
But, He won’t force transformation on us, instead He continually invites us into it. You are today, and at every Eucharist, invited into the transformation. The great St. Augustine heard these powerful words about the Eucharist in prayer, “You will not change me into yourself as you would food of your flesh; but you will be changed into me.” Think about that - when we eat regularly, that food becomes absorbed into us as energy for our bodies, but when we eat this bread and drink this cup, the food of the Eucharist transforms us into the body of Christ. We become what we receive. We receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist so that we may become the Body of Christ in the world. “You will not change me into yourself…you will be changed into me!”
But, we must let God change us. And it starts with believing that He is real and that He is here and that we can be made holy like Him. So today, perhaps for the first time, let us all open the eyes of our hearts and our souls. Let us allow Jesus, who is really, truly, physically present today in this Eucharist, change us, shape us, mold us to more closely resemble the same Lord we receive. Let Him form us, transforms us and conform us to be changed into Him.
Let us today approach the Eucharist with a convicted faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and we shall experience God's saving power and transforming love. Jesus invites us today, “If you will allow it, you will be changed into me.”
May God give you peace!