June 3, 2018
This Sunday here in the United States we celebrate the great Feast of Corpus Christi, and it gives us the opportunity to reflect on the reality of the Real Presence of the Lord in the consecrated Host and the Precious Blood, and it causes us to be extremely grateful to Jesus Christ, who gave us the sacrament of the Eucharist as a magnificent way of him continuing to share His life with us—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He comes to live within us, and we live in Him through our baptism into His Body the Church.
The celebration of this Solemnity goes back to the thirteenth century. Pope Urban IV instituted it in 1264 for the entire Church. He wanted it to be filled with joy and accompanied by hymns and a festive procession. He asked the great Western Church father, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose two Offices of prayer. St. Thomas did so, along with five hymns, and they have nourished the piety of Christians for centuries. In one of them, St. Thomas noted:
Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence,
restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand,
turns the person who eats it into itself. Thus, the proper effect of this sacrament is the
conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that
Christ may live in him. And, as a consequence, it has the double effect of restoring the
spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues.
One of the things that I remember most vividly about growing up in Indianapolis at my home parish of St. Roch’s is the procession which we had through the neighborhood on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Many of the servers dressed in cassocks and surplices, the youngsters who had just shortly before made their First Holy Communion dressed in their special white outfits and those who were about to receive their Confirmation marched, along with as many parishioners as possible—all made their way in procession to three homes near the church where altars were adorned with flowers. Along the way we recited the rosary and sang hymns as the Blessed Sacrament was carried through the streets. At each altar we paused for prayer and for Benediction, concluding the celebration with a final Blessing back in church. It was something that I always looked forward to, and even at my early age it spoke to me of the importance of bringing Jesus out of the church and into the world of families, oppression and need.
Later I became acquainted with the more than one-hundred year history of the famous Corpus Christi procession held at our Franciscan parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Saint Louis. There they did something similar as above, but they included even larger processions and with a real live cannon that was timed to shoot as each Benediction occurred at the neighborhood homes. And then there is the Corpus Christi procession at St. Francis in Quincy, which originally centered around what was St. Francis Academy (now Quincy University) and the nearby St. Alphonsus orphanage. It brought together hundreds of people from the town to give witness to their belief about the Real Presence.
This is the theological mystery we call communion. It is the one reason why we call the reception of the Eucharist Holy Communion. The Christian faith and life is about relationship—with the Father, in and through His Son Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And, in Jesus Christ, with one another, for the sake of the world. The world into which we process is the world that God still loves so much that He continues to send His Son: to save, recreate and transform it from within. The Corpus Christi procession symbolizes the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ and our participation in it.
He comes to dwell within us, and we live our lives now in Him. We are invited to become a living monstrance, carrying the Lord within us, living manifestations of the Lord, showing Him forth to the world, in word and deed. We are invited to enthrone the Lord in our hearts, which is, in biblical language, the moral center of the person. In the Holy Eucharist we receive Jesus the Christ. Through our Baptism Jesus Christ has taken up residence within each one of us. We carry Him into the real world.
Jesus told His disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you: Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you.” We who have been given the Bread of angels truly do have His Life within us, the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—a Communion of Divine Persons in the perfect unity of perfect Love. The Feast of Corpus Christi follows the great feast of the Holy Trinity in order to show us the profound connection every year. Through our continual reception of the Eucharist we are invited to live more fully in the Trinitarian communion, and we are given the grace to do so.
Would that we at St. Peter’s could have an outdoor procession for this Feast, but we can still live the reality of bringing Christ into our world—our families, our work places, our neighborhoods, and our parishes. Let us choose to become what we consume. May our celebration today make us more and more aware of how we can do just that each and every day!
SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Today’s readings focus on the themes of blood and covenant. The Exodus passage takes us back to the people wandering through the wilderness. When Moses writes down God’s commandments, the people accept them as the guide for their lives. To seal this covenant-bond between God and the Israelites, Moses takes the blood of the sacrifices and sprinkles it upon the altar (symbolizing God) and upon the people. The people believed that life itself was in the blood, and life was sacred because it came from God. Thus the people of Israel would not eat meat that contained blood. So through the sprinkled blood, the life element, God and Israel become bound in a sacred bond, a covenant.
In the Gospel account, just prior to his death, Jesus shares his last meal with his disciples. There he blesses bread, gives it to his disciples, and tells them, “Take it; this is my body.” He then blesses the wine and tells them to drink of it for “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Through the shedding of his blood in his death, Jesus establishes a new covenant between God and his people. The Letter to the Hebrews explains the significance of Jesus’ action by contrasting it with the first covenant that Moses established. The blood used to seal the covenant is not that of goats and calves, but the very blood of Christ himself. “For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant.”
These readings tell us what we celebrate around the altar. Like the disciples in the room with Jesus, we drink the blood of the Lord, and through his blood we are united to the Lord in a new covenant-bond.
When God established the covenant with his people, the relationship the Israelites had with God changed. No longer was God distant, as were the pagan gods. In Exodus 4:22, God calls Israel, “my son, my first-born.” With the establishment of the covenant, the people promised to obey God as one would a parent. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church #238 states, “In Israel, God is called ‘Father’ because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, ‘his first-born son.’”
Christ gives us himself in the Eucharist. In turn, we bless God for all he has done for us, from providing us with dignity, to the gift of faith and the relationship he shares with us. In the Aparecida document, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean state, “We bless God for the dignity of the human person. We bless Him for the gift of faith that enables us to live in covenant with Him until we share eternal life. We bless Him for making us his daughters and sons in Christ, for having redeemed us with the price of his blood and for the permanent relationship that he establishes with us” (#104).
Through the Eucharist, believers are not only united with Christ but also with the community. As Pope St. John Paul II states in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “By its union with Christ, the People of the New Covenant, far from closing in upon itself, becomes a ‘sacrament’ for humanity, a sign and instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ for the redemption of all. The Church’s mission stands in continuity with the mission of Christ: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’” (Jn 20:21).
For Your Reflection: How does the Eucharist affect your relationship with God? What connection does the Eucharist have to your many relationships in your life? How does our parish help the worshipping community link the Eucharist to their work in the world?
FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
Friday, June 8, 2018
On Friday, June 8, we celebrate the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the patronal feast of our Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart. The feast is always celebrated on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi, since there is an intimate connection between these two feasts: each of them underscores an aspect of the continuing love of Jesus Christ for the Church and for each member of the Church.
We can trace an element of devotion to the Heart of Jesus almost from the first centuries of the Church, although such devotion seems primarily on an individual rather than on a liturgical level. It was only in the 17th century through a vision to a humble Visitation nun in France, Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), that Christ chose to reveal the desires of His Heart and to confide the task of imparting new life to the devotion. These revelations were numerous, but it was particularly the one that occurred on the feast of St. John in 1673 that most of the basis for the feast is rooted. In that apparition Jesus permitted Margaret Mary to rest her head upon His Heart and then disclosed to her the wonders of His love, telling her that He desired to make them known to all mankind. He told her that He had chosen her for this work of diffusing the treasures of His goodness and that he had chosen her for this work. He said, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men…instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part of mankind only ingratitude.” He asked her to work for a feast of reparation on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It took a long time to actually accomplish the goal of a specific feast, but finally Pope Pius IX in 1856 made it a feast to be celebrated by the universal Church.
Here at St. Peter’s we will celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart with a Solemn Mass at 11:40 on Friday, June 8 (no 12:15 Mass that day) and with Solemn Vespers in church at 5:40 P.M. We hope many people will be able to join us to participate in this festal celebration.
GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE
Rejoice and Be Glad!
Pope Francis has recently released another Apostolic Exhortation entitled as above, and in it he addresses the theme of holiness—not holiness in general but rather the universal call to holiness that Jesus has articulated throughout his ministry here on earth and which the Pastoral Letters written by Paul, John and Jude which now are contained in the New Testament further delineate. Holiness is not just for the few but is for all of God’s people, and Pope Francis reiterates what the Second Vatican Council taught more than fifty years ago, brings it up in contemporary terms and situations, and then also offers some practical suggestions on how we can strive for this holiness day by day. The pope writes in a down-to-earth style which is easy to read and holds your attention. It is well worth your time and your concentration.
Here at St. Peter’s we are offering a three-part series exploring these ideas from Pope Francis’ Letter during the month of June—on Tuesdays June 12, 19, and 26—from 12:10-12:50 in the St. Clare auditorium. Friars Kurt Hartrich, Arthur Anderson, and Derran Combs will be the presenters and facilitate the discussion. In preparation for these sessions, you might want to purchase a copy of Pope Francis’ Letter in our Book and Gift Shop, or you can find it on the internet as well. Everyone is invited and we hope many will be able to join us.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
An airline pilot with poor eyesight had managed to pass his periodic vision exams by memorizing the eye charts beforehand. One year, however, his doctor used a new chart that the pilot had never before seen. The pilot proceeded to recite the old chart, and the doctor realized that he had been hoodwinked.
Well, the pilot proved to be nearly blind as a bat. But the doctor could not contain his curiosity. “How is it that someone with your eyesight can manage to pilot a plane at all? I mean, how, for example, do you taxi the plane out to the runway?”
“Well,” says the pilot, “it’s really not very hard. All you have to do is follow the instructions of the ground controller over the radio. And besides, the landmarks have all become quite familiar to me over the years.”
“I can understand that,” replies the doctor, “but what about the take-off?”
“Again, a simple procedure. I just aim the plane down the runway, go to full throttle, pull back on the stick, and off we go!”
“But once you’re aloft?”
“Oh, everything’s fully automated these days. The flight computer knows our destination, and all I have to do is hit the autopilot, and the plane pretty much flies itself.”
“But I still don’t see how you land!”
“Oh, that’s the easiest part of all. All I do is use the airport’s radio beacon to get us on the proper glide path. Then I just throttle down and wait for the co-pilot to yell, ‘AIEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!’, pull the nose up, and the plane lands just fine!”