In times of joy and sorrow, Catholics gather around the table of the Lord. We seem drawn to celebrate the Eucharist by an instinct of faith when we welcome new members, bid farewell to loved ones, seek strength and consolation, reach out to the victims of a tragedy, offer gratitude for deliverance from harm, commemorate anniversaries and to join in prayer for all we need and all we have been given. Certainly our appreciation of the Eucharist has been heightened in these last few months when many of us have been deprived of it due to the pandemic. It is a distinctively Catholic impulse and our primary way of expressing who we are in relationship to God and to one another.
Our behavior demonstrates what Church teaching proclaims, namely, that the sacrament of the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium #11). Partaking of the body and blood of Christ lies at the heart of Catholic identity. It fulfills what Jesus most clearly desired of his followers: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you….Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:53, 56).
The Christian life, individually and communally, is Christ living in and acting through us. By receiving the Eucharist, we welcome him in a most real and intimate way. In the act of eating his body and drinking his blood, he enters into us, sanctifies us and transforms us into his living body, which is the Church. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, it makes present in ritual the very realities from which it draws its life, namely, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. An ancient theological axiom puts it well: the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.
The Eucharist has been the principal sacramental activity of the Church from its earliest days. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:42-46), we see a community of believers gathering to hear the Apostles’ teaching, to pray and to break bread. In imitating what Christ did at his last meal with the Apostles on the night before he died, his followers were faithful to his command to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24). Throughout its existence, the Church has never ceased to fulfill his wish. It’s simply who we are and what we do as the embodiment of Christ, the continuation of his presence in our world.
The Church is maintained in being by the Eucharist because this sacrament makes Christ present in a real and total way. He comes to us under the appearance of food and drink, which is to say that he is absolutely essential to sustaining our life. The Eucharist is more than just one ritual among many in which the Church engages, such as blessings, novenas or other liturgies. In fact, the Church is most intensely and truly itself when it celebrates the Eucharist. Here it shows its true nature as the sign and instrument of our communion in the divine life and in our unity with one another.
In recent years, there has been a growing concern that Catholics, especially younger ones, no longer profess a belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This doctrine is linked historically to the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation, which declares that through the act of consecrating bread and wine these substances become truly, really and substantially the body and the blood of Christ. The terminology and concepts that were easier to understand by Catholics in the past are either not as easily understood or effectively taught today. But people can be given the opportunity to learn about this important part of the Church’s tradition and to make it meaningful for themselves.
Although a unique change takes place in the bread and wine that results in the fullest possible presence of Christ, this mode of presence “is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, in #1374. With this in mind, we should ask ourselves if the transubstantiation of the bread and wine is paralleled by a transformation of mind and heart in us who receive the body of Christ.
Do we open ourselves to the power of God’s grace in order to become what we consume? In the Eucharist, Christ offers himself as food for our journey. Having received him, do we sustain and nourish others by a life of humble service, love and mercy? The Catholic instinct to gather for the Eucharist must be matched by an equal impulse to leave the altar and bring Christ to others. Then the meaning of Eucharist is complete.
SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians addresses a problem of division, since the Church is made up of people of different social statuses, educational levels, and economic standings. This root problem leads to many of the issues that Paul addresses in the letter, including that of meat consumption, idols, the Eucharist, and spiritual gifts. In the verses for our reading today, Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians that, despite their status and economic differences, they are partners in Christ through the sharing of the same cup and the same bread.
Recounting God’s provision of manna during the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, Deuteronomy 8 proceeds to remind the Israelites that they need to humbly realize that their lives are dependent on God and God’s Word. When the Israelites experienced hunger and thirst during their wandering in the wilderness, it was God’s daily provision of manna that sustained them for the journey.
Experiencing God’s blessings and miracles, however, can become a source of pride and exclusion. We see this not only in the well-to-do Corinthians but in the psalmist of Psalm 147. While praising God for protecting Jerusalem and for God’s mighty word, the psalmist ends by pronouncing Israel’s monopoly on God’s statute and ordinance.
Perhaps that is why we find Jesus in John 6 downplaying the significance of manna. Not only is Jesus’ proclamation of himself as the living bread from heaven set against manna in the context of the Passover, but Jesus further declares in the passage today that there is no life without him.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes himself as an essential food. He tells his followers that he is a bread unlike any other, since those who eat the bread “will live forever.” He also depicts the bread as flesh given “for the life of the world.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that Jesus united his life with the lives of his followers: “From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, and he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours” (#787).
Paul tells the Corinthians in the Second Reading of the union the faithful experience as they participate in the Eucharist. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” he asks. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The Breaking of Bread is the expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him” (#1329).
The Second Reading relates the union that the Eucharist brings not only with Christ but with other members of the Church. Paul explains to the Corinthians that the many who partake in the “cup of blessing” and “the bread that we break” are “one body.” The Catechism notes, “Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body—the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism” (#1396).
For Your Reflection: In your struggles, can you recognize that God is with you and blesses you? How does our faith community help the assembly understand that the Eucharist unites us with each other as well as to Christ? Do you regard your participation in the Eucharist as a participation in the wider Church?
FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Saturday, June 13, 2020
There is perhaps no more loved and admired saint in the Catholic Church than St. Anthony. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195. His was a very rich family of the nobility who wanted him to become educated, and they arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. Against the wishes of his family, however, he entered the community of Canons Regular (Augustinians) on the outskirts of Lisbon. The Canons were famous for their dedication to scholarly pursuits. They sent him to their major center of studies in Coimbra to study Latin and theology.
After his ordination to the priesthood, Fernando (his given name) was named guest master and placed in charge of hospitality for the abbey. It was in this capacity, in 1219, that he came into contact with five Franciscan friars who were on their way to Morocco to preach the Gospel to the Muslims there. Fernando was strongly attracted to the simple, evangelical lifestyle of the friars, whose Order had been founded only eleven years prior. In February of the following year, news arrived that the five Franciscans had been martyred in Morocco, the first to be killed in their new Order. Seeing their bodies as they were processed back to Assisi, Fernando meditated on the heroism of these men. Inspired by their example and longing for the same gift of martyrdom, he obtained permission from church authorities to leave the Augustinian Canons to join the new Franciscan Order. Upon his admission to the life of the friars, he joined the small hermitage in Olivais, adopting the name Anthony, from the name of the chapel located there dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great, by which he was to be known.
The new Brother Anthony then set out for Morocco in fulfillment of his new vocation. Illness, however, stopped him on his journey. At this point he decided to head to Italy, the center of his new Order. On the voyage there, his ship was driven by a storm onto the coast of Sicily. From Sicily he made his way to Tuscany where he was assigned to a convent of the Order, but he met with difficulty because of his sickly appearance. He was finally assigned, out of pure compassion, to the rural hospice of San Paolo near Forli, a choice made after considering his poor health. There he appears to have lived as a hermit and was put to work in the kitchen, while being allowed to spend much time in private prayer and study.
One day, on the occasion of an ordination, a great many visiting Dominican friars were present, and there was some misunderstanding over who should preach. The Franciscans naturally expected that one of the Dominicans would occupy the pulpit, for they were renowned for their preaching. The Dominicans, on the other hand, had come unprepared, thinking that a Franciscan would be the homilist. In this quandary, the head of the hermitage, who had no one among his own humble friars suitable for the occasion, called upon Anthony, whom he suspected was most qualified, and entreated him to speak whatever the Holy Spirit should put into his mouth. Anthony objected but was overruled, and his sermon created a deep impression. Not only his rich voice and arresting manner, but the entire theme and substance of his discourse and his moving eloquence held the attention of his hearers.
At that point, Anthony was commissioned by Brother Gratian, the local Provincial Minister, to preach the Gospel throughout the area of Lombardy in northern Italy. In this capacity he came to the attention of Francis of Assisi. Francis had held a strong distrust of the place of theological studies in the life of his brotherhood, fearing that it might lead to an abandonment of their commitment to a life of real poverty. In Anthony, however, he found a kindred spirit for his vision, who was able to provide the teaching needed by young members of the Order who might seek ordination. He thereby entrusted the pursuit of studies for any of his friars to the care of Brother Anthony. From then on, his skills were used to the utmost by the Church. While teaching was a skill he possessed, it was as a preacher that Anthony revealed his supreme gift.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY
Sunday, June 21, 2020
In anticipation of Father's Day, June 21, here in the United States we celebrate Father’s Day, a day set aside to praise and thank our fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, and fathers to be. It may seem that much more is made of Mother’s Day, but we all have some wonderful stories and memories of our fathers as well. My dad was someone who modelled what he wanted to communicate to my sister and me rather than using all kinds of words. He always told me that working hard was not just for a paycheck but to make a contribution to one’s family and the people around us. Every Sunday he was at church in a suit and tie acting as an usher (something he loved as a church member). I always felt that it was not so much out of obligation but rather out of conviction. Every summer he planted and maintained a large garden to help feed us (and to keep me busy weeding between all the vegetables). He could be a good disciplinarian, but his loving spirit came through much more forcibly.
Please use this day to honor your father if he is still living and to pray for and to him if he is deceased. I am truly grateful that God gave me the father he did. God knew what I needed to grow into the person I needed to be.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
It was the day of the big sale. Rumors of the sale (and some advertising in the local paper) were the main reason for the long line that formed by 8:30, the store’s opening time, in front of the store. A small man pushed his way to the front of the line, only to be pushed back, amid loud and colorful curses.
On the man’s second attempt, he was punched square in the jaw and knocked around a bit and then thrown to the end of the line again. As he got up the second time, he said to the person at the end of the line, “That does it! If they hit me one more time, I just won’t open the store!”