June 16, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy 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 Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or as perhaps it is better known by its Latin title, 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 how bleak and sterile the Sinai was, and still is for that matter.

The fleeing Hebrews were virtually helpless. They faced death from starvation and thirst. Food and water were in short supply at best.

God supplied through Moses. The people lived as a result. They did not starve. They eventually 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 the early Church. The similarity among all the accounts shows how important the Last Supper was to the first Christians.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, and 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, as does Catholic teaching today, remembered the Lord’s words as literal.

Reflection

Few Americans die of starvation, despite the chronic poverty endured by many, but millions around the world do literally starve. It is a plight that the desperate Hebrews feared as they crossed the Sinai Peninsula, as recalled by Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading.

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

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

Even if we experience material plenty, we all are in circumstances similar to those confronted by the ancient Hebrews. Today, as humans have been in any time, we are lost in our own stark and sterile Sinai Peninsulas created by sin and human limitation.

Perhaps the worst danger is that we so often assume that we know where we are, and where we should go with our lives, and that we have more control than we actually have.

In fact, we too are at the mercy of harsh, even deadly, 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 himself in Jesus and especially in the Eucharist. As the early Christians so firmly believed, the Eucharist is not merely a symbol. The Eucharist is the Lord’s “body, blood, soul and divinity.” In the Eucharist, we enter intimately into communion with Jesus. Jesus gives us life. †

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