I am so happy to be with all of you today as I celebrate the first Sunday Mass of my first priestly assignment as the Associate Pastor of St. James, St. Ambrose, and St. Ignatius. They say I was sent here to loosen up Fr. Chuck! But, I think it will be the other way around! Seriously, though, ever since I was ordained on May 28 and learned of my assignment here, everyone I have talked too has said what a good cluster of parishes this is, and how faithful a people you all are. This has eased my nervousness and made me excited to come here and I am truly looking forward to serving all of you, celebrating the sacraments with you, and getting to know as many of you as I can. Like I told those at the daily Mass on Thursday, as a recently ordained priest, unfortunately, you all become the beneficiaries of my foibles, so I implore your patience as I grow more and more into the identity of a priest.
It is remarkable to me that in the first weekend of my first priestly assignment, we are celebrating that great feast of the Church, Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ… really what the Priesthood is all about. I want you to know that the Eucharist is one of the highest priorities of my life and of my ministry to you. The Mass is a great joy of mine and I have worked hard to understand and learn it well in light of our continuous tradition from ancient times to today and onward. I regard it as the highest form of service that I could offer. What greater gift, what greater form of help could I give you than the real and true Body of Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself? As we hear often, it is the Source and Summit of the life of the Church. Who we are and what we do as Catholics comes from the Eucharist and finds its highest point in the Eucharist.
It sounds nice to say that for our parish, the Eucharist it its source and its summit. But, that’s also a little too easy to say if we don’t also consider that the only way the Eucharist can fully be the source and the summit of our parish is if It is the source and the summit of each one us. We make up the parish… the Eucharist makes up the parish… Does the Eucharist make up me and each one of us? Every year that we celebrate this Solemnity we are invited to think for ourselves what we truly believe about this Sacrament. We are invited to ask ourselves: “Do I know what the Church teaches about the Eucharist? Have I tried to understand it? If a non-Catholic friend asked me tomorrow what the difference between my Communion and his is, would I be able to say? Do I really believe that after the words of Consecration – “This is my body” and “This is the cup of my blood” – what looks, tastes, feels, and smells like bread is not really bread at all but the Body of Christ… and what looks, tastes, feels, and smells like wine is not really wine at all but the Blood of Christ? If this is the Source and the Highpoint of what we are really about as Catholics, it is important that we ask ourselves these questions in such a concrete way… simply to know what we are all about and say that we’re all about.
I think God is calling us today to consider the Body and Blood of Christ in a precise way. After all, Jesus Christ Himself presents It in a precise way to the Jews he was addressing in the Synagogue. He carefully and deliberately chose his language, with full knowledge of the meaning his words would invoke in the minds of his listeners. When Jesus said, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” the Jews quarreled among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They were outspoken in their disagreement for they knew he wasn’t speaking metaphorically. In response, Jesus did not change his language, rather he spoke even more explicitly by adding that they should also drink His Blood. Their angst came from their misunderstanding him to be advocating cannibalism. Cannibalism is the eating of dead flesh, which truly is repulsive. But, Jesus gives us his glorified humanity as it is after he rose from the dead. This is why he calls himself the “living bread” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Jn 6:52-53, footnote). After all, the characteristics of his Body and Blood are hidden behind the characteristics of bread and wine even though they are no longer bread and wine. This is meant to facilitate our frequent reception of his entire self, his real and true Body and Blood as well as his Soul and His Divine Life, so that he may be our strength, our healing, and our life. It is truly a miracle.
It is also true that under the Old Covenant the Jews were forbidden to drink the blood of animals because it contained the life of the animal and doing so would lower them to the level of animals. But here too, the Eucharist is different. Here Jesus gives us supernatural life and does not lower us but rather raises us to the heights of heaven. Any other food, once eaten, breaks down into smaller and smaller parts until it is assimilated into our body and becomes part of us. But the Eucharist is the only food that we eat that causes us to become It, that assimilates us into It. St. Cyril of Alexandria used the image of two pieces of wax melted together to illustrate this point. And St. Therese of Lisieux went so far as to call her first Communion not a meeting with Jesus, but a fusion (A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Jn 6:57).
As partakers of the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. We become the many members of his One Body. The Eucharist unifies us, draws us together, and forms us, despite all of our different origins and circumstances, as a Catholic parish, as a Catholic Church. By receiving Him together, he make us unified. Therefore, it is painful to me that some members of my family and friends who aren’t Catholic or who are non-practicing cannot receive Communion with me. I want us all to experience the intimate union the Eucharist brings. But I have to remember that the Eucharist is the highest form of communion, not just one among many ways we can show our togetherness. By receiving Communion we are showing in the highest way that we are in communion. It isn’t the first step to communion, but the ultimate one.
All of the points I have made I think are important for you and I to be reminded of because they influence how we live our lives as Catholics and the way we approach the Eucharist. The more we are aware of not what we are receiving but Who, the more we grow in reverence and devotion toward the Eucharist and the more we grow in the depth and confidence of our Catholic identity. Refreshing our memory of what we believe can help you and I to grow in love with the Eucharist and not to take it for granted. For example, this causes us to genuflect reverently to the tabernacle when we enter and exit the pew; to receive Him carefully and mindfully in the hands or on the tongue; or to spend some time adoring Him, our God, hidden under the appearance of the consecrated Host. Here at St. James, times for Adoration are offered from 7-10pm on Mondays, 8:30am-5:30pm on Fridays, 8-9am on Saturdays. Believing He is truly present inspires us to want to spend time with Him, to come to know Him as a friend, to share all of our sorrows and joys with Him, and to receive his help and consolation in return.
Finally, our belief in the Eucharist inspires us to desire and even hunger for heavenly things rather than earthly or material things. As human beings we have natural, in-born desires and longings for happiness, for love, for companionship, for joy, and peace. But so often we try to satisfy these longings with things that couldn’t possibly match up with the capacities our Lord created in us. He made us for himself and only he can bear the weight of our happiness. If we try to put that weight on food, or shopping, or another person, we soon realize that our desire is never quenched and the object on which we misplaced it is consumed, crushed, or abandoned leaving us still wanting more. We must look to Christ who wants to be consumed by us, but not abandoned, so that we can be completely satisfied. Our desires are not too much for Him. In the Eucharist, we receive all the heavenly things our Lord wishes to give us – grace, unity, forgiveness, and peace, even His entire self – if we are only open and disposed to receiving them.