June 14, 2020 at St. William Church & St. Peter Church in Naples, FL
Deuteronomy 8, 2-3, 14-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17 +
John 6, 51-58
This annual feast we once called, “Corpus Christi” is an annual occasion to get back to basics. So, let’s go there for a moment. Ancient peoples believed, as we still do, that earth, air, fire and water are the fundamental elements of creation. With that in mind, we can begin to understand why Jesus chose bread as the element we should use to bind us together. It is, as we say in prayer, “Fruit of the earth and work of human hands.” It is, first of all, a gift of God to us. Bread in every culture and language is a metaphor for food. It is the most basic human sustenance. To lack bread means to lack food, to lack that on which we depend to live and without which we die for lack of nourishment. Wine however, is not a principal of sustenance. It is not necessary. We can live without it. But, wine is a symbol of gratuity. It is part of feasting and fulness of life. It is something of joy that calls to mind community, sharing, and social bonds. So, we take bread and wine to the altar together, never one without the other, because they are a symbol of human life all of which comes from God.
With that in mind, we must choose carefully the words we use to express what we do in here. We do not “Go” to Mass. We are called here by God. Mass does not begin with the opening song. The Eucharistic celebration begins when we accept God’s invitation to come and be here willing to be transformed by what God gives us. In a society where individualism triumphs, the Eucharist reminds us of the common destiny of all humanity. It awakens us to the injustice that leaves so many of God’s people with out bread. We are also a society in which waste prevails. I read a credible statistic that tells the truth: half of what we buy is thrown away. Look at the food piled on the plates in restaurants. Then think about the boxes people carry home and forget about until they get moldy and get thrown out. The Eucharist forges a bond of charity between us all, and it awakens us to injustice and disturbs us enough to give us a mission.
What has happened to us since mid-February or early March has alerted us to more than physical challenges. There is a spiritual one as well. I cannot count the times when I have heard people say: “I miss receiving my Holy Communion.” I heard it so often that I was beginning to think that somehow, we have lost more than Holy Communion. Then, one day sitting in counsel with someone, they said; “I miss being at Mass.” With that statement, the challenge was focused for me. As church, we cannot be satisfied with having the Eucharist; we do not possess it. The Eucharist serves no purpose if it remains simply an object to be possessed or adored. We are called to become the Eucharistic body of the Lord; the truth and the proof of the Eucharistic body is the worshiping community. What we lost for most of this year was not having communion served, but being in communion, being together, being renewed, and strengthened as only friends and family can do for us. In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says these words: “Humbly we pray that, through the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” That is why we receive communion, that is why we have communion, and it is why Christ Jesus gave us the Eucharist; so that we might become one by the Holy Spirit.
When I say we have to take care about how we express what we do and believe, we must be conscious about the expression “communion.” It does not refer solely to the act of eating the Eucharistic bread. It also refers to the reason, the purpose for which Christians eat it: to be church-communion, to become one body in Christ. This is why we do not have “open communion” or just say “Y’all come.” It is not just a moment of me and Jesus. It is not just a way of remembering the Last Supper. Taking communion in here means we accept God’s invitation to become church, and as church to be the Body of Christ for each other and the world.
Communion is an actual communion, because through it we have communion with Christ and share in His flesh and His divinity; through it, we have communion and are united with one another. To receive communion is to be a communion. When we begin to understand that the purpose of the Eucharist is to make us one body, a communion of brothers and sisters in faith, we will no longer view our participation in the Sunday liturgical assembly as a matter of law or obligation. It will have become our way of expressing our identity. Being present, in the church is an essential part of calling ourselves Catholics. If you choose for no good reason to be absent, you’re not Catholic. It is the assembly, that provides our identity, and the Church is not Church until is gathers together. When a brother or sister cannot be here, we do not leave them alone, we take them holy communion from this altar table mindful that they belong, that we miss them, and we don’t want to lose them. This is why not being here because we don’t feel like it, because we’re tired, or because we have to shop or play a round of golf is to put ourselves outside and break communion. It is to decline the invitation of God and the gift of life God offers us in this place. It is simply a big, NO THANK YOU to God.
What we have experienced for most of this year has been an opportunity to remember that we must not ever take God’s gifts for granted, the gift of our health, the gift of our life, and the gift of our faith resting upon the gifts of our common faith. If I had ever taken you for granted, I know better now. Standing at this altar looking out at empty pews, hearing no response when I say: “The Lord be with you” or “Amen” when the great prayer of thanksgiving concludes has been a sad but good lesson. Being a priest without people doesn’t make much sense to me. I hope it has been the same for you.
At the conclusion of the Eucharistic liturgy in the Maronite Rite, the priest and people bid farewell to the altar, the symbol of Christ around which we gather, and they say these words, “I leave you in peace, O Holy Altar, and I hope to return to you in peace. May the offering I have received from you be for the forgiveness of my faults and the remission of my sins, that I may stand without shame or fear before the throne of Christ. I do not know if I shall be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. I leave you in peace.” People who celebrate the Maronite Liturgy never leave early. They all stay to say that prayer. It should be so for us because, we never know if we shall be able to return.
God is Good.