Corpus Christi – C • June 19, 2022 at St. Luke’s

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi! This is not a church feast day in honor of a city in Texas; no, this is the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! Corpus Christi of course is Latin for body of Christ. Being able to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood is such a great gift that the Church celebrates it in a special way with today’s feast.
But unfortunately, it can become all too easy to kind of take the Eucharist for granted. In his goodness, Jesus shares his Body and Blood with us at every Mass, but just like with our prayer, receiving communion can become kind of routine. We can become accustomed to getting up at communion time when everyone else gets up and getting in line to come up and receive the Blessed Sacrament.
This is not at all unusual, and it is very commonplace, so we should remind ourselves every time we come to Mass of what is happening here and who it is we are receiving. In fact, so much of our faith really comes down to just remembering or reminding ourselves again and again of what God has done for us and continues to do for us. If we were to do that, I am confident that we would really grow in our faith.
Our readings today remind us of this incredible and indeed miraculous gift that God shares with us. In our second reading taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we hear one of four accounts from the New Testament of how Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Three of these accounts come from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the fourth one comes is from this letter to the Corinthians which we heard from today. (The account of the Last Supper from the Gospel of John instead relates Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet.) And the four accounts from the New Testament of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper are all very similar. They all include the sequence of these verbs: “take”, “give thanks” (“bless”), “break”, and then the Gospels include a fourth verb, “give”, which of course is implied in St. Paul’s account. So: take, bless, break, and give.
Where else do we hear the sequence of these four verbs? In the account of Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, or the feeding of the five thousand as it is also called, which we heard in our Gospel reading today. The Gospel clearly says, “Then taking the five loaves and the 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.” This is not a coincidence! The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is a clear and direct foreshadowing of the Eucharist.
And at every Mass, the priest repeats this formula of taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking, and giving it. In doing this, he is obeying the command that Jesus gave at the Last Supper to “do this in remembrance of me.” And the Church has consistently from the very beginning believed that the bread and the wine that the priest prays over become Jesus’ very own Body and Blood. Not of course through the priest’s own power: we do not have the power to change bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood on our own. When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish and then fed the five thousand, he had the apostles first collect them and give them to Jesus, who took them, prayed over them, broke the bread, and then gave to his disciples to distribute to the crowd. That is the role of the priest as well: we act in the name of Jesus Christ, the true high priest, and in his name and through the power of the Holy Spirit – not our own power – bread and wine become Jesus’ Body and Blood. And we do this because he commanded us to do so at his Last Supper.
When Jesus fed the five thousand, the disciples admitted to Jesus that they didn’t have enough food to feed the crowds themselves. It was Jesus who fed them. But he had his apostles give the multiplied loaves and fish to the crowds. We know that it was the apostles because they collected twelve baskets of leftovers. But the food came from Jesus. That’s because no human being can satisfy our hunger; it is Jesus alone who can do so.
And we are all hungry. When we feel physical hunger, we have something to eat, and we feel satisfied: our hunger is gone. But only for a while: it won’t be long before we start to feel hungry again. But we human beings don’t just hunger for food. We hunger for or desire all kinds of things. And whatever we hunger for we perceive to be some kind of good. Whether it is or not though is another question, but at least when we desire something, on a purely human level we perceive it as a good thing. And of course, everything God created he saw to be good. But because of our fallen human nature, our desire for the good things of the world can and does sometimes get distorted and disordered. Our desire for just about anything, no matter how good it is in and of itself, can become disordered. We can develop unhealthy attachments and desires for created things. We can lose self-discipline and self-control. And then the things that we desire can start to control us and make us behave in more and more unhealthy and even inhuman ways.
The point is, God created all of us with hearts that desire, that seek fulfillment, that seek peace. And we often look for the fulfillment of our desires in the created things around us, whether they be people or things. But only God Himself is capable of fulfilling our deepest desires. Everything else will sooner or later leave us wanting more. Just like with our last meal, maybe it was good and enjoyable while it lasted, but sooner or later we’re going to want and need another one. Or our last vacation: no matter how enjoyable or restful it was, it won’t be long after it’s over that we’ll start thinking about the next one.
These desires can only be completely and ultimately fulfilled by God. Everything else will fall short. So, in order to fulfill our desires, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to become one of us, and while here on earth, to give us His very own Body and Blood, which is the Eucharist we receive at Mass. But if only God can truly satisfy us, why is that we don’t feel complete fulfillment after receiving communion? Why is it that we can receive communion and still not feel or act any differently?
The first and most basic reason is because of, once again, our fallen human nature. The Eucharist is not a magic pill that automatically changes us. We have a role to play when we receive communion: we must prepare ourselves spiritually, otherwise its effect on us will be limited or perhaps even completely negligible. We have to prepare ourselves to receive communion throughout the rest of the week, by taking time each day to pray, by focusing less on ourselves and always looking for ways to love and serve others, and through little acts of fasting or denying ourselves from time to time even of good, legitimate things. We also have to prepare ourselves by avoiding sin as best we can, by striving to remain in a state of grace. And we ought to be in a state of grace when we receive communion; that is, if we have committed a serious or mortal sin, we must first go to confession before receiving communion. As St. Paul says a few verses later in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” In other words, we must examine ourselves before receiving the Eucharist: am I right with God? Do I have any serious, unconfessed sins on my soul? If so, Jesus gives us a remedy for that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
And the second reason why we don’t feel ultimate fulfillment after having received communion is because we are still living in this world, still living in the shadow of sin and death. Jesus gave himself to us in the Eucharist as our food for the journey through this life to the next, to give us the strength to make it through this often perilous life all the way to our true heavenly home in the next life. In heaven, we will be completely united with God; we will be completely filled with Him, and there will be no more need for the Eucharist, for God will be all in all.
So let us renew our appreciation for this incredible gift of the Eucharist, which none of us are truly worthy to receive. And let us give thanks to the Lord, who has the power to make us worthy, and in his great love and mercy for us, gives us his own flesh and blood for our spiritual nourishment and sanctification.