SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (2020)
Readings:Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16Psalms 147:12-15, 19-201 Corinthians 10:16-17John 6:51-58
Two weeks after the great solemnity of Pentecost, is a great, perhaps perfect, opportunity to reflect on the Eucharist. It is at the Eucharist where our faith is grounded; it is at the Eucharist where the God we worship comes down to earth and draws as close to us as is humanly possible in this world. Tied as this feast is to what has gone before – Trinity Sunday, Pentecost, and the entire Easter season when we celebrate the Lord’s Paschal Mystery – it is the best prelude to the Ordinary Time we are already in (what used to be called the Sundays after Pentecost), and which will extend for the rest of the entire liturgical year. It reminds us of what will keep us grounded in our faith until we once again begin to prepare for the Lord’s birth at Christmas. It is not as though there is nothing to celebrate in Ordinary Time, for what we celebrate in all times is the Eucharist. Even with our absence from Church during this novel pandemic, the Lord has been streaming and zooming Himself to us in order that we might not lose hope, and in order that we might be reminded of just how much the gathering together as a faith community actually means to us.
In the Eucharist, as our Opening Prayer says, Jesus has left us a memorial of His Passion in order that we might always experience in ourselves the fruits of His redemption. We partake of Christ’s body and blood not to obtain a talisman or token that keeps us from all harm, for it is only like the “manna” in our first reading from Deuteronomy, which does demonstrate God’s love for us, just as it demonstrated God’s love for the Israelites. Our communion is a participation in the body and blood of Christ, and as such it literally demonstrates how Christ permeates the very core of our being, meant to make us like Him in everything we say and do. But memorializing and communing with the Lord is not enough, unless it changes our lives for the better. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in Sacramentum Caritas: “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church’s life, but also of her mission: an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.” He says further, “truly, nothing is more beautiful than to know Christ and to make Him known to others.”
As we celebrate this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, it is not impossible that we are distracted by the images on our televisions showing hundreds of thousands of protestors in the U.S. and all over the world, demanding an end to racism and justice for George Floyd, the man brutally murdered before our very eyes in an altercation with four policemen in Minnesota. Because what Pope Benedict XVI says about the Eucharist is true, we should be able to connect this feast to the country’s present battle with racism. Maybe the correct song to be sung at these large gatherings is not so much “We Shall Overcome,” but the Burt Bacharach song from 1965, sung by Jackie DeShannon, that so many of us remember: “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now, is love sweet love, no not just for some but for everyone.” The Eucharist we celebrate today is meant to change racists into lovers, and bad policemen into peace men. Racism is deeply rooted in our society, and as Catholics who believe in the power of the Eucharist to make us better, we need to identify what we can do to eradicate the racism in our own lives, and summarily in that of the entire world. If we don’t feel a call to do that then maybe we are preventing our reception of the Eucharist from having its full effect.
As the editors of the Jesuit America Magazine recently said: “Catholics cannot be content to stand on the sidelines of this struggle. In the face of racism, Catholics must hunger for justice as we hunger for the Eucharist. It is far too easy to for us to think of racism as someone else’s problem. We must also ask what will make this moment – responding to the killings of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among so many others – different from the cries that have been heard so often in every era since the fifties. Jesus found Himself so often in the midst of suffering, and as He did, He wants us to do also – to heal, to bring peace, to bring comfort and compassion. If so many of us have any sense of white privilege, and there are so many reasons that we should, we should remind ourselves that we are part of the problem, for if persons of color could do away with the scourge of racism, they would have done that many ages ago.
The Eucharist makes us witnesses to Christ. Benedict XVI tells us that “the wonder we experience at the gift God has made to us in Christ gives new impulse to our lives and commits us to becoming witnesses of His love. We become witnesses when, through our actions, words and way of being, Another [i.e. Christ] makes Himself present. Witness could be described as the means by which the truth of God’s love comes to men and women in history, inviting them to accept freely this radical newness. Through witness, God lays Himself open, one might say, to the risk of human freedom.” We must use our freedom to make the world in which we live a better place.
So let us pray on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: God of justice, give us the courage to admit our sins and failings. Give us the freedom to seek your mercy and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. And give us the strength to continue crying out to you for the healing of our nation until it fulfills its commitment to recognize that you have created all people equal.