BE A MONSTRANCE TO THE WORLD!
FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI
June 07, 2015
St. Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Exodus 16:2-15;31-34. Psalm: 105:23-24;37-42
Cor: 10:16-17. Gospel: John 6:41-56
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
A few years ago, right here in Palm Springs, I had an encounter with a sidewalk evangelist who saw the cross on my shirt-collar and asked if I was a Christian. I said “Yes”. He then asked me, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” I responded “I sure do. I eat His Body and drink His Blood every Sunday at Mass. How much more personal can you get?” He then proceeded to call me a cannibal and to tell me I was surely going to suffer in the next life for talking about Jesus that way. What became very obvious to me was that this young man had a very different idea about what happens at Mass than I did.
The Real Presence of Jesus in the Bread and Wine in the Eucharist has always been controversial, beginning with Jesus Himself as He engaged in the dialogue we heard in today's Gospel with a murmuring and quarreling Jewish audience as Jesus pointed out the difference between Himself as bread and the bread sprinkled on their ancestors in the desert when Moses was leading them. Just like the street corner evangelist, Jesus' contemporaries just didn't understand that His Body was the Bread that gives eternal life.
The debate about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has continued among Christians over the last century and a half. It is a debate that has divided Christians to the extent that we do not share one bread and one cup, as shown by the regrettable closed communion policies of some denominations. The Real Presence is an issue that presents itself in a very poignant way as we celebrate Corpus Christi. Today's feast forces us to confront important, basic questions for all Christians, “What do we believe about the Eucharist?” “What do we believe happens to the Bread and Wine during Mass?” And what are the implications of what we believe for the mission of the Church?
Some Christians do not believe in the Real Presence at all. That is, they don't believe that Jesus is present physically present in the bread and wine. For them, the bread and wine merely symbolize the body and blood of Jesus and are shared in memory of the Last Supper and the passion of Jesus. Those Christians, however, are often those who like to do a literal reading of Scripture. But what they don't get, is that the doctrine of the Real Presence derives from scripture. The story of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke, in every translation I've read, (and I want you to know I consulted at least ten of them), Jesus' words over the Bread and Wine were, respectively, “This IS my Body” and, “This IS my Blood.” Jesus didn’t say “this “symbolizes.” And I want you to know, that I did in fact consult an interlinear translation of the Greek New Testament, and yes, the text does use the verb “to be” and not something else!
John's Gospel doesn't give us a narrative of the Last Supper, but it does set out the Real Presence in no uncertain terms. Jesus proclaims that He is the bread of life, and that He is not ordinary bread. He explicitly tells his audience His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. He tells the synagogue congregation that questioned whether He could give them His flesh to eat, that those who desire eternal life and participate in the Final Resurrection must eat His flesh and drink His blood. And in today’s Epistle, St. Paul explicitly recognizes the Real Presence in asking us, “is it not the Body of Christ we share in the Bread that we break” when we make Eucharist?
Traditional Catholic Eucharistic theology in the Western Tradition theology sees the Real Presence of Jesus as occurring through “transubstantiation.” That’s a theory articulated by Thirteenth Century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica as he attempted to apply Aristotelian logic to explain what happens when the priest consecrates the Bread and Wine. According to Aquinas, when the priest says the words of institution (“This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”), the substance of the elements changes from ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, though the accidents (the physical properties of bread and wine) remain the same. Edward Schillibeecx, a modern theologian, explains the Real Presence at the Eucharist more concretely. Think of cloth. Think of a flag. The priest consecrating the Eucharist is like making a flag out of cloth. It still has the physical properties of cloth, but is now a flag instead of just plain cloth. Schillibeecx calls this “transignfication.”
The Eastern Church, and many Anglicans, disavow any particular explanation as to how Jesus becomes present in the form of Bread and Wine. It is a mystery beyond human understanding, not capable of a logical explanation.
The Real Presence , mysterious or not, invites us to consider not only questions like whether God's presence is an objective fact, but to what extent Jesus is a concrete reality in our lives? My wife thought she had the answer to this when we went shopping at the Autom store in Phoenix – in case you don't know, that's the religious version of Wal-Mart – it’s an ecclesiastical superstore with religious goods of any and every kind at low prices. So when we were there a few years ago, Beeper bought this used monstrance for about $40. In case you want to know what a monstrance is, here it is. It’s a device to display the Blessed Sacrament. Beeper bought it because she actually wanted us to display the Blessed Sacrament in our living room! Well, as progressive a Catholic as I might be, I'm not quite ready for Jesus on the coffee table. However, her desire for it made me ask myself an important question: Does Jesus tangibly exist among us and in how we live, or is Jesus just someone we worship?
Corpus Christi has traditionally been associated with venerating Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. But we also venerate Jesus by following Jesus. For me, the Real Presence has both a spiritual and objective dimension. Like many Christians, I say my prayers of adoration before the sacramental Real Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle. But we as the Church can't stop with adoration. Adoration is a starting point, not an end in itself. If the Church's mission is to succeed in our very secular world that lives in the here-and-now, to say Jesus is present in the Eucharist only spiritually won't do. Centuries ago, St. John Chrysostom told us: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me"... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.”
As we ponder the words of St. John Chrysostom, we should remember the Eucharist is not just for prosperous Americans, but for poor and hungry people everywhere. The hungry person who can’t afford food is an objective reality. The Bread and Wine on the Altar and in the Tabernacle cannot be a prison that confines the Real Presence of Jesus. For Jesus, feeding hungry was important. I'm sure you recall the Feeding of the Four Thousand and the Feeding of the Five Thousand, variations of which are found in all four canonical gospels. And in the epilogue of John's Gospel, Jesus implores us, “feed my sheep.” In our times, the homeless feeding programs of many Churches carry on this aspect of Jesus' ministry. Why? Because Eucharist is not only about a transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus; it is a transformation of us, the way we carry our Christian faith beyond the church doors into our lives. We become what we receive. When we receive the Bread, we hear the words, “The Body of Christ,” and when we drink from the cup, “The Blood of Christ.” Mass makes us different people, healing and transforming us as the Body of Christ to be sent out into the world to do the work God has given us to do. Thus, Mass is not just about what we do on Sunday. It is about what we do every day.
The word Mass comes from the Dismissal of the old Latin Mass, which was, “Ite, missa est,” or, “Go, this is the sending out.” In Latin, the word “Ite” is in the imperative form. So when we leave here, we are sent out to be missionaries as a mandatory duty, not a just gentle suggestion. But what kind of missionaries are we to be? How about “missionaries with a monstrance?” No, you don't go out and buy one. You, yourself, can be a monstrance. You, as a member of the Church by virtue of your baptism, are a member of the Body of Christ. When you receive Holy Communion, you are in Jesus, and Jesus is in you. You are made clean by His Body, and washed by His Blood. While we may not be worthy to gather up the crumbs under the table at which Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples, all of us can display the ongoing presence of the Risen Lord “out there” beyond the walls of the Church building. In encountering the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, we encounter Jesus, the Jesus who told His disciples that he would give himself to us tangibly as real food and real drink. Our mission as Christians is to make that real food and real drink a tangible reality outside, beyond the doors of this Church, and it is the Eucharist that nourishes us to do that. Sunday Mass feeds and comforts us, but our daily actions constitute the verifiable evidence that others can observe to see Jesus at work in the world beyond the walls of the Church. You and I can display the Real Presence of Jesus in how we think, feel, and most important, how we behave.
The behavior part is the hardest. To be a Christian is not easy. Much of what Jesus teaches runs counter to our social norms and aspirations. An easy example is the insatiable desire some people have to live in luxury with little or no attention to the spiritual side of life, working tons of hours a week to pay back money they borrowed to by stuff and more stuff. Another problem is our society’s addiction to the notion of retribution and retaliation as so-called “justice,” to punish rather than forgive wrongdoers. How would our lives be different if before we retaliate against someone who does something we don't like, we instead displayed the Real Presence of Jesus in how we handle the situation?
When you leave here after Mass, think about how you, as an individual person, can make a difference in the world. When one encounters oppression and injustice, the answer has got to be, “no, I’m not going along with that program.” Your actions must be consistent with being the Body of Christ to the world. Just as we feel close to the Body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, so must we become close to our fellow humans, who are also manifestations of Jesus, the risen Lord, even our worst enemies. I realize this is a big challenge. We have to both call out injustice and at the same time to recognize the underlying humanness of our oppressors. However, challenging as that may be, that is the Gospel mandate.
What we have to do is allow the Real Presence of Jesus to enter our lives as we receive His Body and Blood, food for all who hunger, drink for all who thirst. Be a monstrance to the world. You don’t have to talk about Jesus at all. Let the people out there see Jesus in you in your actions. Be the salt of the earth. Do not lose your saltiness. Let your life be like the City on the Hill as a light to the world around you. Be ready to shine as the Real Presence of Jesus, allowing who and what you are, to make a difference in the world. AMEN.