June 24, 2011

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, which perhaps is better known by its Latin translation “Corpus Christi.”

The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy recalls the passage of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land.

Moses is the central figure in this book, in the Pentateuch and in the list of ancient Hebrew prophets. He is the principal figure in this weekend’s reading.

To understand this book—and indeed to grasp the plight of the Hebrews as they fled from slavery in Egypt across the Sinai Peninsula and eventually to the Promised Land—it is necessary to realize that the Sinai Desert is bleak, sterile and perilous for anyone attempting to cross it.

The fleeing Hebrews were virtually helpless. They faced starvation as well as possible death from thirst. Food and water were nowhere to be found.

Through Moses, God supplied what the people needed to survive in the desert. As a result, the people lived. They did not starve. In time, they arrived at the Promised Land.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading.

Along with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, First Corinthians provides the New Testament records of the institution of the Eucharist.

The presence of this record in First Corinthians indicates how important the Eucharist was in early Christianity. The similarity among all the accounts shows how carefully the first Christians wished to repeat the Last Supper.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading.

It is powerful and eloquent. Jesus states, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).

Jesus used no symbolic phrases, no vague illusions. The biblical texts are clear. He said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” directly and exactly. It is a simple, straightforward declaratory sentence. Not surprisingly, the first Christians remembered the Lord’s words as literal.

Reflection

The circumstances of the flight of the desperate Hebrews—who were trapped for generations in slavery in Egypt—across the treacherous Sinai Peninsula, as recalled by Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading, is a fitting initiation for the Church’s lesson on this feast of Corpus Christi.

They were completely at the mercy of an unknown and very unforgiving land. They had no way out. They could help themselves very little, if at all. Without food and water, without any direction as to where to go, they were facing death itself.

God supplied them with food and water, pointing them on the right path to the Promised Land. God gave them life.

We are in a circumstance similar to that confronted by the ancient Hebrews. It is important that we realize this, and that we accept who and where we are. Today, as humans have been in any time, we are lost in our own stark and challenging life experiences.

Most Americans may have earthly food and water, although many people today do not have clean water to drink or enough food to eat in many countries throughout the world.

We may assume that we know where we are, and where we should go with our lives.

But, in fact, we, too, are at the mercy of the conditions surrounding us. In the spiritual sense, we all are vulnerable to the eternal death created by sin.

Here, God enters the picture. He gives us Jesus, the Son of God. The Lord gives us the Eucharist. As the early Christians so firmly believed, the Eucharist is the Lord’s “body, blood, soul and divinity.”

In the Eucharist, we intimately connect with Jesus. We unite ourselves with Jesus, and Jesus gives us life. †

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