June 14, 2020 – The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
FR. JOHN MITCHELL
My sister frequently expresses her desire to eat her babies. Don’t worry – she is not a cannibal. But her children are often so darn cute that she says she could just gobble them up.
It’s as if a hug and a kiss are not enough. In some way, she wants to become one with them. It’s a rather profound desire to commune with them that, for whatever reason, our human experience associates with eating.
If you think about it on a basic level, it makes sense. When I see a donut, I typically experience a kind of delight at the vision. My delight only increases as I pick it up to smell it and maybe even run my finger along some of its icing to taste it. But my joy is not complete until I have gobbled up the donut and so become gloriously one with it.
These dynamics are most certainly at play in the genius mystery of the Eucharist our Lord has given to us, which we celebrate this weekend in the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (popularly still referred to as Corpus Christi).
The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man so that he could become one with us by uniting himself to our human nature. It was the true marriage of heaven and earth by which God acted to reconcile us to himself and not only restore our relationship with him, but actually draw us into the communion of his life-giving love – the mystery of which we celebrated last week in the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.
As with any marriage, such a covenantal union needs to be renewed regularly so that our finite human nature can enter more and more deeply into the depths of its goodness.
Married couples sometimes do this in word on the anniversary of their wedding day by renewing the promises they made to one another and asking God’s grace to strengthen them in their commitment to the vows they made. They also renew their covenant in deed each time they commune with one another in conjugal union. In both word and deed, they thus renew and strengthen their covenantal bond throughout the whole course of their lives.
As heaven wedded earth in Jesus Christ, drawing us into true communion with God, it makes sense that our Lord would want to give us a way to renew that covenantal bond throughout the course of our lives, in both word and deed. And so he did.
At every single Mass, we renew our covenant with God in word by proclaiming the Word of God, recounting his fidelity to us and all the ways he has acted throughout our history to rescue us from our sin and draw us back into union with him. Our first reading this week, from Deuteronomy, is a perfect example. How many similar stories of fidelity and forgiveness run through the minds and hearts of a couple renewing their commitment on their 50th wedding anniversary?
But our Lord doesn’t stop at just giving us good memories of him to recall from the past and renew in word. In the generous genius of the Eucharist, he also provides a means for us to commune with him in deed – in the flesh – and in a way that is not awkward in the least. In the mystery of the Eucharist, he humbles himself to become present to us in the form of food so that we can not only delight in his presence, but even become one with him in our very being by “gobbling him up,” as my sister so desires to do to her delightful children.
Of course, some key distinctions are at play in the mystery of the Eucharist to make this miracle possible and meaningful. For one, it is the Risen Lord we consume in the Eucharist, and the whole of him – body, blood, soul, and divinity – that we commune with, so he remains very much alive as we unite ourselves to him in this way. Cannibalism, which rots with death, this is not. This is “the living bread that came down from heaven … my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
For another, this food from heaven is unlike any other because, unlike a donut, which is transformed into me as I eat it instead of my becoming a donut, the Eucharist actually transforms us into Christ as we consume him under its appearance. In both instances, the lesser becomes more like the greater, and is increased in dignity through the process.
The other unique effect of this heavenly food is that as we are made one with it, it also works to make us one with each other. “Humbly we pray,” in Eucharistic Prayer II, “that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” It is through the mystery of the Eucharist that the Church becomes one and so becomes a great sign of the unity that the whole human family and indeed all creation is called to in Christ. May the world be made one in him, our “finest wheat.” (Psalm 147:14)