May 23, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is a celebration of family

On Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is timely to ask, do we truly treasure this awesome gift of Jesus?

If you knew you had one last supper to share with your family or with your best friends, what would you do?

At the Last Supper which Jesus celebrated with the 12 Apostles, friends chosen from among all his disciples, he gave us the sacrament of his Body and Blood so that he could be with us always. He gave us this gift even though one of them would betray him for money. Another would deny that he even knew him.

The last meal Jesus had with his friends happened to be the traditional Jewish Passover meal, a remembrance of deliverance from slavery. The ritual Jewish Passover meal was transformed into the Lord’s Supper, a memorial of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God in which Jesus gave us the bread of life. For us, that has made all the difference.

At that Passover meal, Jesus instituted the holy Eucharist. Without the Mass, our gatherings would be nothing more than a Passover ritual, a dramatic production of something that happened a long time ago.

As for its Passover roots, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and charity go together. The Passover meal of the Jewish tradition was a family celebration.

In that night of darkness when the angel of death passed from door to door in Egypt, the family gathering was the place of salvation. Those who were gathered as family that fateful night were saved. Passover became the annual gathering of Israel as family against a recurring threat by the angel of death in a world of chaos.

Did not Jesus intend that the celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ should draw family together, and that the family should be the place of our salvation against the chaos and the confusion that is still so much a part of our world?

In a world of broken families, surely Jesus wanted us, his Church, to be family, a community of faith. And surely Jesus intended that our homes should be the cells which form the family that is the Church. And so the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the feast of the sacrament of unity and charity, is a celebration of family and Jesus is our head.

It was no accident that Jesus chose the annual Passover meal as the context in which his own Passover would be memorialized forever. It is important to remember that Jewish Passover was a celebration of family pilgrimage. Like our Jewish ancestors, we are still a pilgrim people on our way to the final kingdom.

We are never a perfect family. We are families searching to be family. Like some of us, many Jews who journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover had no family. Those who found themselves alone gathered to form a family for the Passover meal.

Until Jesus returns to bring the fullness of the Kingdom, the angel of death still passes among us. On the way, we are still tragically separated from loved ones even in our own homes.

Isn’t it true that the angel of death touches us still in different ways? There is death, divorce, betrayal, the addictions of drugs and alcohol and sex, violence in our streets, and worse, physical and emotional violence in our homes.

Many find themselves lonely even in their own homes. Mother Teresa of Calcutta remarked that loneliness is the worst poverty in the United States.

At that Last Passover Supper, Jesus transformed ancient family ritual into the holy Eucharist of our Church so that there would always be a family for everyone, no matter how alone or lost.

The Eucharist makes us a community to which we can belong, even when we are alone. We are still a pilgrim people, and we need to come together as family and as a family of families. And we must welcome those who need us to be family for them.

No one should feel they must turn to alcohol or sex or drugs or manipulative relationships to find true love. At his Last Supper, Jesus included Judas, who would betray him with a kiss, and Peter, who would deny him three times.

This week, we celebrate the holy Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, which he gave us as food for life and for unity among us.

At the holy Eucharist, we are to welcome those who need us to be family for them. We are to welcome each other because we need to be family for each other—in our homes and in our churches. †

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