Sunday, June 14, 2009

'We have to witness to the Real Presence by acting like it is the Real Presence'

A Corpus Christi homily by FR. SEAN RAFTIS S.J.

In a very short time, we will witness to the greatest miracle performed by Christ Jesus – the miracle of Our Lord turning the bread and wine into his Body and Blood.

Today is Corpus Christi. The feast of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ.

In the first reading, God gave the Chosen People Moses as a mediator, a priest, who offered sacrifice that sealed the covenant between the Jews and God. This covenant was sealed as blood from sacrificed sheep and oxen was sprinkled on the people and the altar. The ritual required the people also ate part of the animals sacrificed to God as a sign of intimacy with God. On the annual Day of Atonement, the Jewish high priest would enter into the innermost sanctuary of the Temple, and imitate what Moses did. This was all a preparation for the covenant sealed by Christ on the Holy Cross on the altar of Calvary.*

The second reading was written to the first Christians who were originally faithful Jews. The letter encouraged them to persevere in their faith despite persecutions. The writer shows the fullness of the new sacrifice of Christ made on the true Day of Atonement, Good Friday.

These first Christians no longer offered animal sacrifice to God. They knew that Christ’s sacrifice was definitive, eclipsing previous practices. The Old Testament tradition was like a play or movie, where Christ’s sacrifice is the event on which a movie or play is based. One is real, the other a representation or a shadow of the real thing.

In today’s Gospel, Christ Jesus took bread and wine and, said “take it. This is my body” and “this is my blood of the covenant.” Here, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the First Mass. He not only is the high priest who sacrificed himself for us, he gave us the greatest of all miracles, - himself in what the Church calls “Transubstantiation” - which means that the simple gifts of bread and wine are made into his very body and blood. -- This is the mystery of faith.

The doctrine of the Real Presence was originally taught by Our Lord himself. Jesus repeatedly called himself - literally, the “bread of life” 12 x in the Gospels. Jesus’ critics assumed that He was speaking literally and they objected to this fact. Further, Jesus 4 x in the Gospel mentions eating his body and drinking his blood. He strongly states that if one doesn’t “eat of his flesh and drink of his blood” there will be “no life in you.”

Jesus never softened, backtracked on, or apologized for what he said. He didn’t make any attempts to “water down” this condition for eternal life. Our Lord’s disciples and even his opponents understood perfectly well what he was saying, and they themselves never asked for a correction - or claimed that he was speaking symbolically.

Because of this, some of his disciples even fell away and didn’t believe in him anymore - precisely because of this. And it is quite possible, scholars say, that Judas was among those who didn’t believe in the Real Presence. If Jesus was only speaking metaphorically, then why did some of his disciples fall away on the basis of a harmless symbolic statement?

The word Jesus used when he referred to eating was trogon, which has the blunt meaning of chewing or gnawing. It is not metaphor.

If Jesus was saying these things symbolically, then why would he place condition of eternal life on something that is symbolic? It just doesn’t make sense.

It is important to note what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say “this is a symbol of my body” or “this represents my blood.” The Greek word estin that is translated as “this” where he says “this is my body, this is my blood” can be taken two ways: The first is “this is in reality” and the second way is “this represents.” Jesus meant it in the first sense, as "this is in reality my body and blood." St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians affirms that Jesus was referring to his real body and blood being offered at the first Mass, not a symbolic meal or a simple communal gathering.

Today, in some Catholic “progressive” Catholic circles, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is treated very casually, not spoken of at all, or denied outright. In some Catholic high school chapels, they hide Jesus in the tabernacle in a remote closet in the corner often behind musical instruments. Some religion teachers and professors deny the Real Presence, or never even speak of it in class, leaving their students in abject ignorance of the Source and Summit of our lives. This leads students, who are young and impressionable sons and daughters of the Church, to believe in grave doctrinal error, and often away from the Church.

When Catholic schools and Churches hide Jesus physically or intellectually – it tells you everything you need to know about how seriously it takes its Catholic identity.

Further, when we approach the altar at Communion, we have to witness to the Real Presence by acting like it is the Real Presence when we come to Communion and when we go out and live in the world.

All of us can hide Christ from our lives, not placing him at the center of our hearts. All of us are susceptible to hiding or placing Jesus in the obscure corners of our hearts. We can deny his presence in us and others by behaving selfishly and sinfully. Just as we rejoice that the tabernacle that houses the Body and Blood of Our Lord is the focal point of our church, we also need to realize that he needs to be the focal point and center of our heart and the domestic church of our homes in our ordinary activities. Most importantly, He is always ready to forgive us and it’s never too late to ask forgiveness.

If God could make the world and us out of nothing, there is a logical consequence that he could become present really and truly under the species, or the form of bread and wine.

As Jesus obediently sacrificed himself on Calvary, he continues to obediently enters into and transforms the bread and the wine into his body and blood in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass that is offered every day for our salvation. Why? He has unimaginable love and mercy and he wants to remain with us as His atonement is perpetual.

There is something else that is perpetual in this Church, perpetual adoration. The local and universal Church has been given the great gift of prayer and adoration here at Holy Cross for the last 26 years in our Adoration Chapel. Thank you. If you have a chance, talk to some of the folks who go to adoration. -- They know about the ongoing celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ better than any professor. -- Believe me. So thank them, talk with them, and perhaps join them in their adoration of Our Lord. What a wonderful way to thank God for all he gives us and to ask for our continual help.

It is well for us to say a little prayer of thanksgiving to Our Lord for remaining with us in the Eucharist and to ask ourselves, how do I offer proof of the Real Presence in my ordinary everyday activities?
*Sections of this homily were inspired by The Sunday Readings: Cycle B by Father Kevin O’Sullivan, O.F.M.; Essential Catholic Survival Guide published by Catholic Answers, and The Navarre Bible: Gospels & Acts.

Father Raftis is co-author of "Standing for the Unborn."

NOTE TO PRIESTS AND DEACONS: It is a joy for me to publish homilies. Please send me yours in advance if you would like me to share them with readers on the day for which they are written.