FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI), June 14, 2020:
St. “Padre” Pio famously said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Three months ago during Lent, as we prepared to enter into quarantine and public celebrations of the Holy Mass were suspended, I made the comment that we were about to enter into the most serious Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we were called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our communities or in our prayer groups, or faith formation. This was perhaps the hardest fast of our lives. But, my hope, especially today as we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, The Body and Blood of Christ, is that it was the most fruitful fast we have ever experienced. If we have been attentive to the hunger in our hearts, these months have made us profoundly hungry for God.
This feast of Corpus Christi, renewed in its importance today because of our long fast, came to us from the 13th century. First, from an Augustinian nun, Sr. Juliana of Liège who had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect except for a dark spot which a voice told her represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Eucharist. Juliana had tremendous devotion to the Eucharist and so she worked tirelessly for the Church to establish a feast.
And then there was another experience in the Italian town of Orvieto in 1263. A priest there was struggling in his own faith and belief in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He agonized over this, but in the midst of his struggle, one day while praying the Holy Mass at the nearby tomb of St. Christina, the host began to bleed as soon as he began to speak the words of consecration. The blood fell upon his hands and onto the corporal on the altar. He was awestruck at what had occurred. He immediately went to the Holy Father, Pope Urban and explained what had occurred. The Pope ordered that the corporal be brought to the cathedral in Orvieto with great pomp and ceremony. And one year later this great feast was instituted for the universal church. You can still go to the cathedral in Orvieto and see that blood-stained corporal today.
Just before we entered quarantine, I was called to the hospital for someone who was near death. The person had been away from the Church, away from the Mass, away from the Eucharist for more than 50 years. They wanted nothing more than to be reconciled. We celebrated the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick, and Reconciliation, then I said, “Would you like to receive Holy Communion?” Their eyes widened, “Is that possible?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Your sins have been forgiven and God wants to be close to you.” We prayed again and I gave communion to someone with tears running down their face. As I left, all I could hear repeating over and over was, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
I was thinking of the tears of that person because I saw them again two weekends ago as we resumed our public celebrations of the Mass and person after person came forward to receive Jesus for the first time in months with tears in their eyes. “The earth could exist more easily without the sun, than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Our time in quarantine has renewed in us powerfully that hunger for our Eucharistic Lord. And, I hope it gives us a new appreciation for this precious gift that is never farther away from us than the next Mass. Have you thought about the fact that for months, the number of people receiving Jesus in the Eucharist slowed to a trickle? From the millions who usually receive to probably just thousands throughout the whole world. Let us never take the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist for granted again. Let us never allow that hunger to grow too great in us again. We know that before the coronavirus, that hunger was growing, not because of a pandemic, but because of our own distance, our own apathy, our own turning away from the Lord and His Church. These months have taught us once again how much we need Jesus, how much we need the Sacraments, how much we need the Church.
In John’s Gospel today, Jesus says, “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” What soil does for a plant, what milk does for a baby, Holy Communion does for our soul. By receiving regularly and with fervor, we thrive spiritually on the Body and Blood of Christ.
In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with Himself. Again Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” It isn’t a question of living with another person, but of living in one another, sharing the same life. In Holy Communion we share the life of Jesus. This union began in our Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, but reaches its peak in Holy Communion. We return to that peak of intimacy and union every time we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood.
In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with each other. This sacrament is not only an intimacy between ourselves and Jesus. It is also a love affair that embraces the whole community. As St. Paul said, “As there is one bread, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one bread.” This is a social sacrament, a circle that includes Christ, yourself and all of your brothers and sisters – the one on your left and right, the one in front and behind – and includes the brother and sister on the margins of society, homeless on the streets, detained as a refugee, or marching in the streets of our cities for equality.
And so we pray today that through the gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, that we may all be nourished, that we may be united with our Lord, united with one another and assured of our eternal home in Heaven.
“The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” May we never have to experience this hunger again. And may we leave this place repeating in the depths of our hearts, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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