|Reflection on Corpus Christi|
|Written by Michael Fones|
|Sunday, 25 May 2008 05:39|
This is a big weekend – with a big story to unfold.
It's one that has really captured the imagination of lots of people.
It features a rugged – and unlikely – hero, with a ragtag bunch of misfit hangers-on, involved in one adventure after another.
He deals with supernatural forces, and faces opposition by human enemies who often look good on the outside, but are corrupt inside.
He even goes after them sometimes armed only with a whip.
The whole saga starts with a story featuring the Ark of the covenant, goes on to include bloody human sacrifice, and let's not forget the Holy grail and its promise of everlasting life.
And always lurking as a side story is our hero's attitude regarding snakes.
I suppose it's this marvelous sense of adventure that keeps us coming back to Mass week after week to hear more of the story of Jesus.
Who did you think I was talking about?
I mean, after all, Indian Jones is a make-believe character, and his adventures aren't real.
Mary is the living Ark of the covenant, the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees the one Jesus calls "whitewashed tombs."
Jesus offers himself in sacrifice on our behalf.
He's the new Adam who is wounded by the serpent, but crushes the head of our ancient enemy as foretold in Genesis 3.
We gather each week not only to hear about Jesus and his adventures, but to enter into his story ourselves.
Because at each Mass we take up the holy Grail and the bread of angels, and eat and drink that which Jesus promises will give us eternal life: his body and blood.
And we do this, as often as we do it, in remembrance of him – as he commanded us.
If you think I'm being overdramatic in saying we enter into Jesus' life and death at Mass, it's because we don't understand what it means to celebrate the Eucharist as a memorial in the Jewish sense in which Jesus understood it.
This is Memorial Day weekend, a celebration of the beginning of summer and the summer blockbuster movie season, to be sure.
But it's also a time to remember those who have died in the service of their country.
We decorate their graves, give speeches recalling their valor, and look backwards in time to events of the past, while remaining in the present.
We don't think of ourselves as being present on a bloody Civil War battlefield, a shelled Normandy beach, a bunker in a Vietnamese rice paddy, or a bombed-out section of Baghdad.
Ancient Jews – and modern, ones, too – remember differently.
When they celebrate the Passover meal, which anticipates the Eucharistic sacrifice and meal, the Book of Exodus commands the Jewish father to explain the meaning of the feast this way: “On this day you shall explain to your son, ‘This is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (13:8).
In other words, the Jew celebrates Passover as though they'd been alive at the time of the Exodus.
The ritual action of the Passover meal is not just an act of mental recall, it is a participation in the event itself.
This is why St. Paul asks the Corinthians, "The cup of blessing that we bless,?is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? ?The bread that we break,?is it not a participation in the body of Christ?"
When we gather around the altar-table, no new sacrifice is offered, but the one sacrifice of Christ's cross.
The same body and blood of Christ offered to his eleven friends is offered to us.
Time and space are transcended; history is made present, and future glory is promised.
The Passover proclaims God’s continuing liberation of His people in the present day and looks forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises for complete salvation when the Messiah comes.
So, too, each Mass proclaims the ongoing freedom we are offered in the Holy Spirit Jesus gives us, and points us towards his future return in glory.
We first, however, have to prepare ourselves to drink from the cup. The cup, the holy grail, will contain the blood of the Lord that seals an everlasting covenant between the Father and us, his adopted children.
It is the fulfillment of the covenants made with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.
When James and John ask Jesus, as he goes up to Jerusalem, if they can sit at his right and his left when he enters his kingdom, he asks them if they can drink from the cup he is to drink.
They don't know what they are asking, as he points out.
For the cup from which he will drink is the cup he asks His Father to allow to pass by him.
It is the cup of suffering; the cup of his own life poured out for others – for sinners, no less – who will themselves put him to death.
We are already in the midst of an adventure – a real one involving supernatural forces that seek our ruin.
Not Nazi archeologists or heart-ripping pagan priests, but the demons who convince us to live for ourselves – to seek power, security, the satisfaction of our own desires.
In short – to live for ourselves - which is spiritual death, just as it was for Adam and Eve.
Dare we drink from this true holy grail?
Are we willing to accept what it means?
It means to enter into the life and death of Jesus; to live as he lived:
serving others, and not asking if they're worthy of our service;
binding their wounds, whether physical or spiritual - and not demanding an explanation of how they were wounded;
teaching them in truth and with utter patience when they aren't receptive;
expelling their demons with prayer, our presence, and with the power of Jesus – not our own;
forgiving them even if they should attempt to kill us.
This is the adventure we are to embrace – and many have.
They're adventurers in the image of Christ, and we often call them saints.
People like Catherine of Siena, who traveled to Avignon, France, when most people stayed in their walled villages where it was safe, and told the Pope to get his holy hide back to Rome. She died at age 33 – perhaps the age of her Master – having spent herself entirely for Him.
Or Fr. Damien de Vuester, who traveled from Belgium to Hawai'i to preach the Gospel, and then traveled to Molokai'i to minister to lepers until he died as one of them.
Or Franz Jagerstatter, a 36 year-old Austrian father of three who traveled from his farm to the heart of Nazi Germany where he was executed for refusing to join the Nazi army.
Or Dorothy Day who traveled from atheism and communism to faith and communing with the poor from the dark days of the Great Depression until she died.
You and I are called to our own unique adventure in grace.
Living as Jesus lived is possible only if we drink from this cup and eat from the one loaf.
We cannot live as Christ unless we live in Christ – if we remain in him.
But to live in him paradoxically means we have to die.
We have to die to our own will.
In Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." Lk22:42
The drinking of the cup demands that we do the will of the Father, which is revealed to us by the Son, and summed up in "love one another as I have loved you."
Only by seeing one another - whether pope, leper, Nazi or hobo - as another self, do we, though many, become one body.
St. Paul says, "Because the loaf of bread is one,?we, though many, are one body,?for we all partake of the one loaf."
The body is now not only bread become Jesus, but also “we,” the community that participates in Christ’s sacramental body.
Later in this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses their lack of love for one another, demonstrated by their lack of sharing at the communal meal that preceded the Eucharistic feast.
He says to them, "anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." 1Cor 11:29
Do we discern the body? Are we willing to live the adventure that follows upon any decision to love someone for Christ's sake?
If we hold any grudges against someone who's wronged us; if we hold prejudice in our heart against gays, blacks, whites, immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, pacifists or hawks; if we resent the poor or are jealous of the rich; if we withhold anything good from someone because we've judged they don't deserve it – then we drink judgment upon ourselves when we drink from the one cup. We "choose poorly."
Unlike the bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we won't age 100 years in a moment and become "dust in the wind."
But we will have no life within us, because, truly, we do not yet remain in Christ. His will is not yet our own.
In order to eat and drink without condemnation, our lives must be transformed.
We must adopt Jesus' attitude of selfless love and utter commitment to the Father's will.
Only then will we properly "do this in remembrance" of Jesus – truly enter into his life by embracing his death.
Only then will we, though many, become one – united by one will, that of the Blessed Trinity.
Only then will the real adventure begin – and continue into eternity.