Saturday, June 5, 2010

Corpus Christi: Intimacy with Christ


In the 13th Century, an Augustinian nun, Sr. Juliana of Li├Ęge in Belgium had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect except for one dark spot which a voice told her represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Eucharist. Sr. 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 Corpus Christi (Latin for the Body of Christ) first introduced into the church calendar in 1264.

We could reflect on many things today – how the Sacrifice of the Cross is related to our celebration; how it is that we believe Jesus to be truly present through this transubstantiated bread and wine; how we need a greater devotion to the Eucharist today. This list goes on and on. But, in my reflection for today, I came across another thought on today’s feast; another way of thinking about the Eucharist and ourselves.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that precisely those Christians who preach the necessity of having a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ as Savior might are often less inclined to believe that Jesus is really, truly and personally present in His Sacred Body and Blood? And on the other hand, it’s equally interesting that precisely those Christians, like us Catholics, who do believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are often less inclined to speak about having a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

That contrast comes to mind as we heard the words of Jesus from the Last Supper today: “This is my body that is for you…This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The Last Supper, a moment we hear about throughout the New Testament, is all about intimacy with the Lord, an intimacy with Christ so personal that He invites us to consume Himself, to feed on the life He offers us: the same Body and Blood in the supper of His table, as the life He offered on the altar of the Cross. It is all is about how close Jesus wants to be with us, how close He wants us to be with Him -- and how close He wants us to be with one another. The question the scriptures present, then, isn’t whether or not the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood - or how that happens - but rather about Christ’s desire for communion with us.

What Jesus is saying here is this: Let me tell you how close I want to be with you. Like your mother or father, like your spouse or your best friend, I would give my life for you - so much do I love you. But if I give my life for you, I still want to be with you, so in the communion of my Supper I will give myself to you again and again and again. I want to remain in you - and I want you to remain in Me. As the Bread you eat and the Wine you drink become part of you, so I will become one with you: the Bread will be My Body broken for you, the Wine will be My Blood poured out for you.

We can ask, how real is Christ’s presence in the Eucharist? It is as real as God’s word of promise to us; as real as a soulmate’s commitment; as real as forgiveness heals a broken relationship; as real as the love offered for us on the Cross; as real as the bread and wine offered on this altar; as real as the power of God’s Spirit to make of our gifts today into the very same gift Christ offered to His Father for our sake: His very Body and Blood, His life, given, handed over, in love.

The Eucharist is the way - the sacrament - for renewing and refreshing our relationship with Jesus. When we receive Christ’s body and blood in this sacrament we are drawn into a holy communion of persons, meant to render us truly present to one another, breaking open our own lives, like bread, pouring ourselves out, like wine, to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ once did for us on the altar of the Cross and does each time we gather here to remember and to meet Him at this table.

St. Augustine said, “If you receive (the Eucharist) well, you are what you receive.” If we receive Jesus reverently, faithfully, we become what we receive: the Real Presence of Christ Jesus in our world. And so, this day, begs of us, are we ready for such intimacy, such union with Christ? Do we want to be this close to Him and do we want Him this close to us? Do we desire a personal communion with Jesus and are we open to the communion-with-others that this demands? Do we want to remain in Him and He is us?

To return to the original contrast: the faith of a Christian whose life is based in a real, personal encounter with Jesus cannot help but be graced, enhanced and deepened by belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and the faith of a Christian who believes in this Real Presence cannot help but be graced, enhanced and deepened by welcoming a more personal relationship with Christ whose Real Presence we revere.

If this is what we want there is no better way to find it than to be faithful to the table Christ sets for us here. For here we will find nothing less than the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ our Lord.

For his flesh is true food, and his blood is true drink. This is the bread that came down from heaven…whoever eats this bread will live forever.

May the Lord give you peace.

(Based largely on a homily by Fr. Austin Flemming,

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