May 29, 2016
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland
Not long ago, I found myself on a plane seated next to a passenger who seemed agitated and anxious to talk. Seeing my Roman collar, she asked, “Are you a Catholic priest?” “Yes, and also a bishop,” I added parenthetically, bracing myself for turbulence. As it turned out, she was a very nice person who just needed to talk to someone. “I don’t feel good about myself,” she said, “I’m empty inside. Things aren’t going well at home and sometimes I think I’m on the outs with God.”
As the conversation continued I prayed to the Holy Spirit that her moment of distress would become a moment of peace and joy in the Lord. Truth to tell, I’m not sure where things stood when we parted but I still pray for her, and as a priest I’m also keenly aware that she is more the rule than the exception. Many people lead stressful lives at home and at work. Sometimes they react to the problems and inequities of life by becoming angry, defensive and self-centered. And just when their need for God and the things of God is most apparent, they allow their relationship with the Lord and with fellow believers to trail off. They end up going it alone and they end up being alone.
From time to time any one of us may feel empty, alone and isolated. Now and again the hardships and stress of life may get to us; and sometimes it’s hard to maintain relationships with others and not become absorbed by our own worries, problems and needs. If you’ve ever been there – and I’ll tell you right now that I’ve “been there” – then we should take a second look at today’s feast, Corpus Christi. This feast of the Lord’s Body and Blood offers us three messages that address head on 1) our feelings of isolation and emptiness 2) our daily burdens and stress, and 3) our tendency to turn in upon ourselves…a word about each.
The first message, aimed squarely at our feelings of isolation and inner emptiness, is that the Risen Lord is really and truly present in the Eucharist. Most all of us learned about the Real Presence in preparing for First Holy Communion, and we’ve heard this important truth explained in homilies and talks. As you know, however, many doubt this teaching and question the value of Mass.
But let me tell you this much: every time I consecrate bread and wine, I am awestruck, for in the power of the Holy Spirit they become Christ’s Body and Blood. I am awestruck not because I have changed atoms and molecules (I haven’t), but rather because in my poor hands the Lord is fulfilling his promise to remain with us, to be with us personally and lovingly, every moment of our lives, in fact every day until the end of time, when he returns in glory. Just as the Son of God willed to take our flesh and to be born of the Virgin Mary, so too the Risen Lord wills to be truly present to us in the Eucharist, so much does our Savior want to be with us in a tangible and visible way. St. Paul tells us today that this has been the Church’s faith since the very beginning – since the night before Jesus died, and it will always remain the Church’s faith.
But can Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist truly fill the emptiness of our hearts? Can Jesus really present in the Blessed Sacrament truly unite us to God and to others? The answer to both questions is “yes” provided we give the Lord a chance. It is true that Jesus is unfailingly present in the Blessed Sacrament, yet we need to roll out the welcome mat at the entrance of our hearts. We do this by repenting of our sins, by making a good confession, by daily prayer, and by participating with our mind and heart in Mass each Sunday. Think about the saints: they had different personalities and vocations; spoke different languages and came from different nations and periods of history. Yet, they all had this in common: their devotion to Jesus truly present in the Eucharist. In their sufferings, their trials, their loneliness, their times of doubt – the saints all turned to the Lord in the Eucharist and said, “Remain with me, Lord!” By praying before the Blessed Sacrament and receiving the Eucharist worthily, a most beautiful and spiritually satisfying friendship with the Lord develops in us, and when that relationship grows in its depth and truth and beauty – all other relationships in our lives begin to change – for the better!
That’s the first message and here’s the second: in the Eucharist, Jesus bears our burdens. In the Eucharist we not only encounter the true presence of the Risen Lord, we also enter into his sacrifice on the Cross which is made present to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul teaches that when we share in the Eucharist we “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” In the language of the Bible, “proclaiming” means more than “pronouncing.”
What is remembered and proclaimed comes alive and is made present. So, as we remember and proclaim the Lord’s death, in the power of the Holy Spirit, it becomes newly present precisely so that we can enter into Lord’s supreme deed of self-giving love.
Yet many ask how the death of the Lord helps them in their present difficulties. Perhaps we can think of it this way: God’s Son became one of us not merely find out what life is like on earth, as if he came among us as an “undercover boss”. No, he came into the world to bear the sins and burdens of a suffering humanity, and each day the Lord continues to bear our burdens (cf. Psalm 68:20). It’s not just that the Lord sympathizes with us in our problems and stresses; what he has actually done is to take the things you and I fear the most – extreme suffering and a painful death – realities that expose our frailty and fear – and made them the font of mercy and the path to our own Resurrection. We are not yet free of suffering but in the Lord’s love our suffering takes on meaning and purpose; and in his goodness the Lord remains with us to bear our burdens. That is why he tells us his “yoke is easy and his burden light” (Matthew 11:30).
So, when we enter heart and soul into the celebration of the Eucharist, we have the opportunity to unburden ourselves – to give the Lord all our problems and our catastrophes, big and small, so that they will be swept up into the Lord’s gift of self on the Cross and redeemed by his self-giving love made actively present in our midst every time Holy Mass is celebrated.
This brings us to the third message of this feast: in the Eucharist our tendency to become absorbed in our own needs is met by the overflowing abundance of God’s merciful love. In the Gospel we find a large crowd of hungry people. The disciples’ solution was to send them home hungry and thirsty. Jesus’ way was to take what little they had, a few loaves and fish, to bless, break and distribute them to the crowd, more than they could eat.
What does Jesus ask of us? Not five loaves and two fish but only a little bread and wine such as the high priest Melchizedek presented to Abram in our first reading. This small offering becomes, not earthly food and drink, but the rather the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus by which we are superabundantly nourished, in the depth of our hearts. And this generosity is multiplied over and over again, every time Mass is celebrated. From this divine abundance, we derive the inner strength, the divine grace we need, to break away from a self-centered way of life, from all forms of stinginess, and instead to embrace a way of life that is generous and loving, that seeks to give glory to God by serving the needs of those around us, especially those who are poor, sick, and vulnerable. Fed by the abundant charity of Christ who loves us more than we ask or imagine, we in turn share that abundance with those around us as we strengthen relationships at home and at work, treat one another with courtesy and consideration, and seek to build up and strengthen the Church, the Body of Christ.
So on this feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood, let us give the Lord thanks and praise, let us adore him in the Blessed Sacrament, and lay before him our emptiness, our pain, our self-centeredness – confident that he will transform those very human realities into a joy and a peace that the world cannot give.
O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine!
Read more homilies, columns and commentary from Archbishop Lori here.