29 May 2016
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
God has blessed us with two very great gifts: our faith and our ability to think. And, ideally, they go hand-in-hand. Faith enlightens our thinking; and thinking helps us to understand our faith. In fact, that’s what theology is: it’s “faith seeking understanding.” But it’s a particular kind of understanding; faith helps us understand the meaning of things and events. It doesn’t help us understand the science behind those things and events.
For instance, when Jesus changed water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, our faith helps us to see the meaning behind what he did. But we don’t know how that change happened. Or, today, we hear about Jesus feeding five thousand people with only two fish and five loaves of bread. Our faith doesn’t really tell us how that was possible; in fact, our brain tells us it isn’t possible. But our faith gives us some understanding, at least: Jesus feeding the five thousand was a lesson about putting more trust in God’s power than in human thinking.
God has blessed us with two very great gifts: our faith and our ability to think. And they work together. But, sometimes, we just have to believe—even if it doesn’t seem believable. Sometimes we just have to have faith, even if means we have to look foolish to others. And that’s what we run into every time we come together for Mass. We come face to face with . . . the Body and Blood of Christ.
Now, we can accept that Jesus is spiritually present in the priest, in the congregation, and in the words of Scripture. For some reason, that’s just more easily accepted. But it’s much harder to accept (in our brains) that Jesus’ Body and Blood are actually, physically present in the Eucharist. And it’s different than when he turned water into wine, because, there, people could see and taste that it was wine. Their senses confirmed that a real change had happened.
But that’s not what we’re dealing with here in the Eucharist. Our senses of sight, taste, touch—they all fail us. They’re of no help whatsoever is being able to say with certainty: This is the Body and Blood of Christ. And not only that, our ability to think and to reason also fails us (somewhat). When the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ, we come face to face with . . . the impossible.
The Eucharist is illogical; it doesn’t make sense—it goes against the laws of logic. It also defies the laws of nature. According to everything we know in our brains, the Body and Blood of Christ shouldn’t be here. But here they are.
After the consecration, the priest stands up and he says: The Mystery of Faith. And he’s referring to the Body and Blood of Christ there on the altar. The sheer fact that it’s there—that the seemingly impossible is staring us in the face, is the Mystery which can be accepted only in faith. The real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ is “the Mystery of Faith.”
When the Apostles saw that two fish and five loaves were enough to feed five thousand people, what else could they say but, “We don’t understand it. How was that possible?” And when we hear that the bread and wine are changed really and substantially into the Body and Blood of Christ, what else can we say but, “We don’t understand it. How is that possible?” And with that question, we’re left with a decision: To believe or not to believe—to believe it’s the Body and Blood of Christ, or simply bread and wine. And hidden within that decision, there’s the question: What does it even matter if we believe or not? What does it matter?
Well, it matters because it is a test of our faith; it is a test to see in what we put our trust. Now, it depends on what surveys we look at, but somewhere between 60-70% of all Catholics don’t believe that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ. They believe it’s either nothing or it’s just bread and wine. And, so, whenever we come up to receive Communion and we say, “Amen,” we’re saying “Amen” to something which, for a majority of Catholics, is nonsensical.
We’re not that different from the Apostles who were asked to have faith that two fish and five loaves would be enough. And, like them, we’re hit with a test of faith every time Jesus takes the bread and says: “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body.” And every time he takes the chalice and says: “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood.” It’s illogical and unbelievable what we’re asked to believe. It doesn’t make sense.
And, yet, Jesus still says: “Do you believe me? Do you have faith that my words are true?” What does it matter if we believe? Well, it’s a test of faith; it’s a test of where we put our trust . . . in the Power of God, or in the power of our mind to understand? In short: Who is your God? Is it God, or is it yourself? To say “Amen” to the Body and Blood of Christ is to profess faith that God alone is God.
But it isn’t just a test of our faith. Our Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist gives us our basic identity. And, with that, the Eucharist becomes the “source and the summit,” the “Alpha and the Omega,” the “beginning and the end” of all that we are.
In the 4th Century, Saint Augustine wrote that to receive the Body and Blood of Christ is “to receive that which we are.” And Pope Saint Leo the Great said the same in the 5th Century. He said, “The sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ has no other effect than to accomplish our transformation into that which we receive.” And it’s a belief that’s been repeated throughout the centuries up to the present day. In short, “we are what we eat.”
And this is important to consider because we aren’t made to be a loaf of bread, or a cup of wine—either partially or entirely. We’re intended by our Maker to really be the Body and Blood of Christ; in the world, in our relationships, and forever in the bosom of the Holy Trinity. The Church is the Body of Christ because the bread becomes the real Body of Christ. And the Church is the lifeblood of the world because the wine becomes the real Blood of Christ.
Again, from Saint Augustine, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ is “to receive that which we are.” Even though our brains can’t exactly understand how the Eucharist works, our brains are able to understand why Jesus changes bread and wine into his Body and Blood. It’s so that our flesh-and-blood life will be bound up with his Flesh-and-Blood life. It’s so that we can become like God—today and always.
What does it matter if we believe that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ? Well, it matters . . . if we want to touch God, and if we want to be touched by God—intimately and bodily. It matters . . . if we really want to be the face and the hands and the voice of God to others. It matters because, through the Body and Blood of Christ, we become “blood brothers,” “blood sisters.” It matters because through the Body and Blood of Christ the Church is formed and sustained and nourished. But it takes faith even to believe that.
Receiving Communion is the highlight of our time in Mass. Even though we receive what looks and tastes like an ordinary wafer and ordinary wine, and even though we might not feel any different after having received Communion, it still takes faith to believe that we are changed. Something is different: we received Communion. We’ve been received into more intimate and bodily communion with God, and through that, with our neighbors.
And that’s what our life is all about: it’s about Communion—communion with the Trinity and with all of creation—not only in spirit, but in the body as well. And so, what does it matter if we believe that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood Christ? Because the Body and Blood is the “doorway” to real communion with others, ourselves and our God. Of course, that’s not something to be understood; instead, it’s simply . . . the Mystery of Faith.