Sunday, June 06, 2021

The Faith/our faith and the Holy Eucharist

(Corpus Christi 2021 (B): This homily was given on June 6, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26.)

[For the audio version of this homily, Corpus Christi 2021]


A Catholic bishop was doing missionary work in a foreign country.  One day he was having a conversation with a well-educated Muslim man.  The Muslim said to him, “I don’t understand your Catholic beliefs about the Eucharist.  How is it possible for ordinary bread and wine to change and become the Body and Blood of Christ?  It seems impossible.”

The bishop paused for a few seconds to collect his thoughts; then he responded, “You were very small when you were born—but you didn’t stay that way, did you?  You physically grew because in a certain sense your body 'changed' the food you ate into flesh and blood.  Well, if your own body can transform bread and wine into flesh and blood, then so can God!  In fact, the Lord can do it far more easily.”

The Muslim then shot back, “But how is it possible for Jesus to be wholly and entirely present in such a little host?”

The bishop answered, “Look, for a moment, at the landscape before you, and think how much smaller your eye is in comparison to it.  And yet, within your very small eye is an image of that vast countryside.  Isn’t it possible for God to do in reality what is done in us by way of likeness or image?”

Finally, the Muslim said, “But how is it possible for the same Body of Christ to be present at the same time in all your churches and in every consecrated host?”

The bishop responded, “Nothing is impossible with God—and that answer ought to be enough for us.  But the physical world also gives us an insight into this phenomenon.

Take a mirror, for example, and throw it onto a hard floor.  It will immediately break into many pieces.  But, amazingly, each piece of that broken mirror can carry the same image that the whole mirror formerly reproduced.  Likewise, the very same Jesus reproduces himself in each consecrated host—not as a mere likeness, but in reality.  Thus he is truly present—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in every one of them.”

When we pause to reflect on the Holy Eucharist—which Catholics all over the world are doing on this Corpus Christi Sunday—we must always make a very important distinction: it’s the distinction between “The Faith” (capital T and capital F) and “our faith” (lowercase o and lowercase f).  What the bishop shared with that inquisitive Muslim man was “The Faith.”  With the help of some very good analogies, the bishop made clear to him exactly what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about this sacrament.  When Jesus said, for example (as we heard in today’s Gospel), “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood,” the Catholic Church maintains that Jesus meant exactly what he said!  He wasn’t speaking symbolically or metaphorically, as some of our Protestant brothers and sisters believe.  And the Catholic position is certainly verified in Scripture passages like John 6, where Jesus speaks very clearly and very realistically about the Eucharist: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.’… ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Did this Muslim man become a believer after his conversation with the bishop?  We don’t know—but, quite frankly, he probably did not!  The bishop’s very good analogies—his excellent efforts to explain The Faith—probably didn’t bring this man to a personal belief in Christ and in the Eucharist (at least not right away).  This is why I said that when it comes to this sacrament, we must always distinguish between “The Faith” and “our faith” (i.e., our personal faith).

For a Catholic, of course, the two should be identical: what the Church officially teaches about the Eucharist in the Catechism should be exactly what we personally believe in our own heart.  Our personal faith should be The Faith.  But it might not be!  In fact, the polls indicate that it’s actually quite common these days for members of the Church to reject at least some aspects of Catholic Eucharistic teaching.  And they usually manifest their rejection in their actions.  Catholics, for example, who receive the Eucharist at weddings and funerals down at Christ Episcopal Church (and at other Protestant churches), clearly do not fully embrace Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.  Catholics who come to Communion after missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day without good reason—and without going to Confession first—clearly do not fully embrace the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.  Catholics who need to have their marriages validated and who still come to Communion do not fully embrace the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.  Catholics who fornicate, masturbate, contracept, or commit some other mortal sin, and come to Communion without repenting and going to Confession first do not fully accept the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.

My simple prayer at this Mass is that this situation will change where it needs to change—here in our community and throughout the world—because the graces of the Eucharist are awesome and many.  But those graces become operative within us only to the extent that we accept the Church’s teaching and act accordingly.  Or, to put it another way, if we want all the blessings that come with receiving Holy Communion, “The Faith” must be our faith.