Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Body and Blood of Christ

Corpus et Sanguine Christi Sunday
June 2, 2013
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

The biblical roots of the Eucharist are seen in the encounter between Abram and the mysterious priest of old, Melchizedek, king of Salem. Abram gave the high priest a tenth of everything he had because Melchizedek blessed his sacrifice. The blessings of God fall from Mount Zion on high upon Abram and his descendants. Subsequently, Abram offered sacrifices and holocausts to God for his good fortune.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the crowd about the kingdom of God and heals those who need to be cured. At the close of a long day, the Twelve Disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away so the people can have time to find adequate food and shelter. Jesus responds differently than expected. He continually shows his friends that he is not bound by the expectations of other people. It is easy to fall into this trap, but Jesus lets his right thinking be his guide.

The disciples want Jesus to do something for them that they could easily do themselves. He does not consent to their request, but instructs them on what they are to do next. They are the ones to feed the crowd even though they do not have enough food – just five loaves of bread and two fish. The gathered men are about 5,000 and the women and children are not included in the count, but Jesus breaks them into groups of 50, which is about 100 groups. Each disciple is responsible for 416 men. This is not an easy task to organize. I like that Jesus redirects the disciples to take care of the food distribution on their own.

Far too many people heap their demands upon persons in authority. Often for a priest, the person with the demand wants him to become their agent. We hear, “Father, you get this done for me,” or “Here is the contact information; call them please.” The person walks away free from responsibility after they’ve dumped the burden on a priest. A healthy priest will say, “Thanks for your request. This is what I need you to do. Get back to me once you’ve accomplished that.” This is precisely what Jesus is doing. He is able to function as the one who blesses the meal, breaks the bread, and begins the distribution, but he gives the food to the disciples for full distribution. He stays free of becoming their agent and doing everything for them.

This story also shows that the Eucharist is first and foremost an action. Because of our practices, we sometimes forget that it is a movement where we must actively participate. The early church remembered the actions and words of Jesus and came together to remember him with a meal. Often an Agape meal was held before or after a full regular meal where companionship was shared. As the meals evolved, it was ritualized in the actions of Jesus as St. Paul tells us. We hand onto others what has been first handed onto us – in the first instance, through the Last Supper of Jesus.

In our Masses, God calls us together from our respective situations to worship as one community. It is our responsibility to bring the results of the use of the gifts God has given us and to offer them back at each Mass. We listen and sing words of Scripture and we are instructed about the application of the Gospel to our daily lives. We bring our hopes and dreams with our fears and sorrows and we give them to the priest during our offertory. The priest collects these offerings, along with the bread and wine, and presents them to the Lord.

With Jesus, the priest re-enacts his Last Supper. Through our memory, the sacred events come alive once again and it is Jesus who makes his sacrifice on our behalf whenever we ask. We ask the Holy Spirit to descend upon the bread, wine, and our gifts to make them holy so that the Eucharistic elements become the actual Body and Blood of Christ. This we believe and know to be true. Christ wants to continue to feed us just as he feed the 5,000 in Luke’s Gospel. His heart is filled with compassion for our sorrows and admiration for the people we are becoming. He and his Creating Father want to be generous to us.

After we are nourished, we return to the places in our lives where his presence sustains us until we gather once again. We come again the next week to be bolstered by his active participation in our lives and to come to know his work in our local community of faith.

Throughout the centuries, we have adopted the custom of reserving the Blessed Sacrament and adoring it at various times. Some place a great deal of emphasis on sitting silently before the Lord in worship. This is indeed a good thing to do, but the primary purpose of the Eucharist is for us to go out into the world and feed our hungry brothers and sisters. The old Anglican saying is fitting, “When the Mass ends, the service begins.” It reinforces that Mass is not just one hour on Sunday, but also a continuous part of our day. The Eucharist is always part of our lives, a continuous action, but we complete the full meaning when we “give them some food” ourselves.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The story of Barnabas is told on his feast day on Monday. It describes how he became linked with Paul. He cares for Paul as a new convert and teaches him the faith. In Antioch that year, when a large number of people are brought together, the group is called Christians for the first time. In 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah spares a starving widow and her son in a drought by providing daily flour and oil until the rains water the ground once again. Elijah prepares his case against the god Baal. His sacrificial offering is more pleasing to God than the 450 prophets of Baal. The God of Israel consumes the sacrifice of bull, wheat, water and stones while nothing happens with the sacrifices of Baal. Elijah tells the young Ahab to go up the mountain because the sound of heavy rain is coming. Ahab makes way to Jezreel by chariot, and Elijah runs ahead of him. ~ On Friday's Sacred Heart feast, we hear from the prophet Hosea about God's special love for his child, Israel. On Saturday, Elijah meets Elisha as he plows the fields and allows him to become his attendant.

Gospel: We turn to Matthew's Gospel because Mark's Gospel is the shortest one and has run its course in the cycle. We begin with Jesus noticing the crowds, walking up the mountain, and addressing his disciples with the consoling words of the Beatitudes. He encourages them to be like salt that provides taste while also preserving food and to be like a lamp that shines for all to see. He then indicates that he did not come to be a revolutionary who throws out the law, but as one who will fulfill every aspect of God's law. Central to his message is a radical view of reconciliation and love for one's neighbor. Reconciliation is that which transforms anger and evil into good. ~ Friday's feast of the Sacred Heart depicts the scene in John shortly after the death of Jesus when the soldiers learn they do not need to break his legs because he is already dead. Saturday's reading focus on the suffering of Mary as she learns early in life that Jesus is obedient primarily to his heavenly Father.

Saints of the Week

June 2: Marcellinus and Peter, martyrs (d. 304) died in Rome during the Diocletian persecution. Peter was an exorcist who ministered under the well-regarded priest, Marcellinus. Stories are told that in jail they converted their jailer and his family. These men are remembered in Eucharistic prayer I.

June 3: Charles Lwanga and 22 companion martyrs from Uganda (18660-1886) felt the wrath of King Mwanga after Lwanga and the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) censured him for his cruelty and immorality. The King determined to rid his kingdom of Christians. He persecuted over 100 Christians, but upon their death new converts joined the church.

June 5: Boniface, bishop and martyr (675-754), was born in England and raised in a Benedictine monastery. He became a good preacher and was sent to the northern Netherlands as a missionary. Pope Gregory gave him the name Boniface with an edict to preach to non-Christians. We was made a bishop in Germany and gained many converts when he cut down the famed Oak of Thor and garnered no bad fortune by the Norse gods. Many years later non-Christians killed him when he was preparing to confirm many converts. The church referred to him as the "Apostle of Germany."

June 6: Norbert, bishop (1080-1134), a German, became a priest after a near-death experience. He became an itinerant preacher in northern France and established a community founded on strict asceticism. They became the Norbertines and defended the rights of the church against secular authorities.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Jun 2, 1566. The Professed House was opened in Toledo. It became well known for the fervor of its residents and the wonderful effects of their labors.
·      Jun 3, 1559. A residence at Frascati, outside of Rome, was purchased for the fathers and brothers of the Roman College.
·      Jun 4, 1667. The death in Rome of Cardinal Sforza Pallavicini, a man of great knowledge and humility. While he was Prefect of Studies of the Roman College he wrote his great work, The History of the Council of Trent.
·      Jun 5, 1546. Paul III, in the document Exponi Nobis, empowered the Society to admit coadjutors, both spiritual and temporal.
·      Jun 6, 1610. At the funeral of Henry IV in Paris, two priests preaching in the Churches of St Eustace and St Gervase denounced the Jesuits as accomplices in his death. This was due primarily to the book De Rege of Father Mariana.
·      Jun 7, 1556. Peter Canisius becomes the first provincial superior of the newly constituted Province of Upper Germany.

·      Jun 8, 1889. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins died at the age of 44 in Dublin. His final words were "I am so happy, so happy." He wrote "I wish that my pieces could at some time become known but in some spontaneous way ... and without my forcing."