May 27, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Jesus satisfies our hungry hearts

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“Then taking the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets” (Lk 9:11b-17).

This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). This feast is closely associated with the 13th-century Dominican saint, Thomas Aquinas, whose intense devotion to the Eucharist inspired his prayer, his teaching and several beautiful hymns that we still sing today, “Adoro Te Devote” (sung on Corpus Christi), “Pange Lingua Gloriosi,” “O Salutaris Hostia,” “Panis Angelicus” and “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.”

Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) celebrates the incarnation of the Word of God, his humanity and his real presence among us in the sacrament he gave us the night before he suffered and died for us.

Corpus Christi also celebrates one of the most profound teachings of our Catholic faith—that all baptized Christians have been united with Christ and have become the mystical Body of Christ, the Church. St. Paul teaches that Christ is the head of the Church, and we are all united to him. As such, we form one body dedicated to the supernatural growth and transformation of the entire world in Christ.

The Church teaches that life in Christ begins with baptism and is nourished by our reception of the holy Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, and the other sacraments. In his 1943 encyclical, “Mystici Corporis Christi” (The Mystical Body of Christ), Pope Pius XII writes: “If we would define this true Church of Jesus Christ … we shall find no expression more noble, more sublime or more divine than the phrase which calls it the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ” (#13).

The Second Vatican Council, and all subsequent popes, have reinforced this teaching about the absolute unity of Christ and his Church and its most powerful, sacramental expression in the Eucharist. Our unity as Christians is guaranteed by our participation in the life of Christ, which is accomplished once and for all at baptism and nurtured, restored and sanctified by our frequent reception of his most holy body and blood in the Eucharist.

This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the miracle of the loaves and fish. Jesus feeds a crowd of “about five thousand” from the meager resources available, and the result is not only the complete satisfaction of all who were present but “leftovers” filling 12 wicker baskets. This incredible story demonstrates the Lord’s power over material things (the loaves and fish), but more importantly it foreshadows the great gift that he will give that feeds the souls of his disciples and satisfies completely the longing of our hungry hearts.

Especially in this Holy Year of Mercy, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, is called to continue Christ’s work on Earth. We are to care for the bodily needs of all our sisters and brothers through the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned and burying the dead.

But we are also called to satisfy hearts that are famished spiritually by means of what are called the spiritual works of mercy: sharing knowledge, giving advice to those in need, comforting the sick, being patient with others, forgiving those who hurt us, giving correction to those who need it, and praying for the living and the dead. We perform these works of mercy because we are the Body of Christ and because without us (every one of us) the Church cannot carry out its divine mission.

Pope Francis reminds us that we are missionary disciples who embody the love and mercy of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. The Eucharist is what feeds us—giving us the nourishment we need to love and forgive others, to care for their physical needs and to minister to their spiritual needs. Christ satisfied our hungry hearts—and our bodies, too—by means of the great gift of himself that is really present to us in the sacrament of his body and blood.

In this Jubilee year, let’s be especially thankful for the mystery of Corpus Christi and for the many ways we are blessed as members of Christ’s body. Let’s pray that the Lord will continue to work miracles that satisfy the spiritual and material needs of all. Let’s be Christ for others—missionary disciples who pray for the grace to help satisfy the hungers of all our sisters and brothers in Christ. †

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