Sunday, May 25, 2008

Corpus Christi Sunday: A Day to THINK about the Holy Eucharist

(Corpus Christi 2008 (A): This homily was given on May 25, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17; John 6: 51-58.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2008]

These are the words of a college student, David Alcorn, a former Baptist who was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil back in 2006:

The big issue for me [before I converted] was the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I came to realize that no amount of intellectual argument and debate could convince me one way or the other; I had to believe the words of Jesus himself in John 6 [we heard some of those words a few moments ago in today’s Gospel reading].

One day it hit me that if Christians can believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, came back from the dead, ascended into heaven and is God Incarnate, then why should there be any problem believing in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? The Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Ascension are—historically speaking—past events. The real presence is troubling because it exists in the here and now.

The words of Jesus in John 6:67, after many of his disciples leave him because they can’t accept this teaching, are extremely powerful: “Will you also go away?: Our Lord is willing to risk losing some of his followers over the gift of the Eucharist. I had to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe.” And from that point on, I have never doubted his true presence in the Eucharist. (“I Choose God,” edited by Chris Cuddy and Peter Ericksen, pp. 109-110)

Obviously David Alcorn spent a great deal of time thinking about the Blessed Sacrament during his latter days as a Protestant. He thought about the Eucharist often and deeply, and it ultimately led him to embrace the faith of the Catholic Church. On this Corpus Christi Sunday, it’s important for us to “think” about the Eucharist as well, for the sake of our faith.

First of all, we need to “think" of what the Holy Eucharist is (or perhaps I should say we need to think of WHO the Eucharist is!). This is something that really troubled David Alcorn: How could ordinary bread and wine substantially change into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, while at the same time appearing to be ordinary bread and wine? This was a problem for him, until he realized that any God who could bring about a virginal conception, and then rise from the dead, and then ascend into heaven was more than capable of performing the miracle we call the Blessed Sacrament!

I trust that we all believe the same thing. Of course, if we do, then that belief should be reflected in our behavior.

For example, when people went to see the pope a few weeks ago in New York, they were instructed to arrive several hours early, for security reasons.

And they did. Well, Jesus Christ, who is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist, is much greater than the pope! And yet, how many of us come to Mass last minute every week—or several minutes after it’s already started!

Do we really believe he’s here?

When people go to see kings and other important men and women here on earth, they’re very concerned to dress well, and show proper respect. So how do you normally dress for Mass—especially in the warmer weather? That’s a good question for each of us to think about today. Do we dress like we’re coming to see and have an audience with the greatest King of all?

Do we really believe he’s here?

And what about our internal attire? Do we examine our consciences before we go to Communion, to arrive at a moral certitude that our soul is in the state of grace?

Or do we invite the King of kings into a “temple” that’s desperately in need of a major spiritual cleansing? And by the way, missing even one Mass without a good reason is a serious sin that needs to be cleansed (i.e., absolved) before one can receive the Eucharist! I mention this after the very poor attendance we had a few weeks ago at our Ascension Thursday Liturgies. And I had four of them instead of the usual three! Holy days, remember, are just like Sundays in terms of our obligation to be present.

Do we really believe he’s here?

And do we make appropriate physical gestures to acknowledge the King when we know he’s around? For example, when we pass by the tabernacle, or before we take our seat for Mass, do we genuflect on our right knee toward the King who is already present in that gold receptacle? And do we bow our heads before we receive the King at Communion time? (Remember, the Church has now made clear that the preferred act of reverence is the head bow before receiving the Blessed Sacrament.)

Perhaps we’ve neglected some of these things because we just haven’t thought about them. Well, that’s precisely why I’m bringing them up in this homily. As I said a few moments ago, today is a day to THINK about the Eucharist for the sake of our faith.

In this regard, we should also think of what we’re saying “Amen” to when we receive. Amen, as all our second graders know from their First Communion studies, literally means “I believe”. It’s what we’re supposed to say with conviction and clarity after the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister says to us, “The Body of Christ.” I mention that little detail because many people say nothing—or “thank you”—or some facsimile thereof!

The “Amen” obviously means, “Yes, I believe that this is truly and substantially the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that I’m about to receive in this sacrament”; but it means even more than that! Notice what St. Paul says in this text from 1 Corinthians 10. He writes, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

The loaf is one, and those who receive from the loaf are also supposed to be one according to Paul: one in faith! So when we say “Amen” at Communion time we’re also saying, “Yes, I believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches authoritatively—including her difficult and unpopular moral teachings.”

If we don’t believe what the Church teaches, then we should not receive. This, incidentally, is why Protestants and non-Christians are not invited to receive Jesus at Communion time in the Catholic Church! It’s not because we Catholics don’t like them; quite oppositely, it’s because we love them and we don’t want them to lie in public! If they come to our altar and receive, they are saying by their actions that they believe EVERYTHING the Catholic Church teaches authoritatively on faith and morals.

But, of course, they don’t believe all that the Church teaches—otherwise they’d be Catholic!

And the reverse is also true. We do not believe all that the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and other Protestant churches teach, so we must not receive communion in those churches—even if the Protestant minister conducting the service says it’s ok!

Please remember that, the next time you’re at a funeral or wedding at Christ Episcopal Church, or some other Protestant church in the area.

Obviously receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is a privilege for baptized Catholics who are in the state of grace and in good standing in the Church. Today we should THINK about this privilege and THANK GOD for it, because we can easily take it for granted. We should also thank the Lord for the privilege we have to commune with him either in the tabernacle or in the monstrance in Eucharistic Adoration.

On that note, when was the last time you made a visit to church during the week—at a time when you didn’t have to be here—to adore your Eucharistic Lord?

When was the last time you made a holy hour? You could make one at noon today—a walking holy hour, so to speak—by participating in the Eucharistic procession from Immaculate to St. Pius.

And finally, we should think today of the incredible opportunities we have whenever we do receive worthily. Recently I came across a little reflection on the internet. It was entitled, “When You Miss One Mass and Holy Communion,” and it made clear the many opportunities we have in receiving the Eucharist by speaking of what we miss when we don’t. It reads as follows:

It is well for you to consider what you lose every time that you pass up Holy Communion.
1. You miss a personal visit with Jesus, the Author of all life, love and holiness;
2. You lose a special increase of sanctifying grace, which makes your soul more pleasing to God;
3. You lose a quota of sacramental grace which entitles you to special help in times of temptation and in the discharge of your daily duties;
4. You lose a precious opportunity of having all of your venial sins wiped away;
5. You miss the special preserving influence which each Holy Communion confers against the fires of passion;
6. You miss the opportunity of having remitted a part, or all, of the temporal punishment due to your sins;
7. You lose the spiritual joy, the sweetness and particular comfort that come from a fervent Holy Communion;
8. You lose a part of the glory that your body might enjoy at its resurrection on the Last Day;
9. You lose the greater degree of glory you would possess in Heaven for all eternity;
10. You may lose:
a) complete victory over some fault or passion;
b) some particular grace long prayed for;
c) the conversion or salvation of some soul;
d) deliverance of a relative or friend from Purgatory;
e) many graces for others, both the living and the dead.

The reflection ends with a simple question: Will a few extra minutes of sleep repay you for all these losses?

The answer, of course, should be obvious.

And hopefully it is.