Gospel reflection for June 11, 2023, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus
Father Koch: Christ is truly present with us in the Eucharist
Corpus Christi Sunday is an opportunity to reflect on the very source and summit of our life of faith. This year is unique in that we kick-off this weekend the parish phase of the three-year national focus on the Eucharist sponsored by the U.S. bishops. This effort is in response to the results of a Pew study that indicated that the majority of Catholics do not understand or accept the doctrine of Transubstantiation. The lackluster attitude of many attending Mass and receiving the Sacrament is a clear expression of this unfortunate present reality. While not new to our times -- poor catechesis around the Eucharist has been an issue before -- it is our time and our need to respond clearly and succinctly to a world full of agnosticism.
But ours is also a world filled with familiarity. We all have regular, in fact daily, access to the Eucharist. Many parishes in our diocese have Adoration chapels open all day and every day. Churches abound, most of us can find two or more churches within a 10-mile radius of our homes. The Eucharist ceases to be something special and unique because it is ever present to us.
There was a time -- not all that long ago -- when we didn’t receive our first Communion until 12 or 13 years of age. Similarly, the idea of weekly, much less daily communion, was considered novel. The faithful attended Mass each Sunday, but few received Communion. Now each of us, regardless of how well disposed or prepared we are to do so, receives Communion as a matter of routine.
Moses reminded the Israelites, as he recounted the history of the events surrounding the Exodus to the next generation, about the Lord providing manna for them on their sojourn. They deeply desired bread and the Lord provided the means to make bread with the blessing of the manna overnight each night they were in the desert. After a while, though, they grew tired of the same old diet and protested that they wanted something different. The food in Egypt was bountiful --- the food in the desert was scarce.
As Jesus explains the meaning of the multiplication of the loaves and fish to his followers he references this moment in the history of the Israelites. They received the miracle of food from the heavens. While this food sustained them for this life, it bore no deeper spiritual significance.
Jesus offers a new kind of bread -- not a spiritual bread -- but a physical bread. This bread is, however, his own Flesh and Blood. In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, from which we hear an extraction on this feast, Jesus and those who are with him get into an argument over this issue. He is clear. If you desire to share in eternal life then you must eat -- literally gnaw -- on his very Flesh and drink his Blood.
His hearers thought this outrageous -- cannibalistic -- maddening! Most of the crowd walked away in disbelief, as did many of his disciples. This teaching was, as John points out, “entirely too much for them.”
It remains “entirely too much” for people today.
Although the initial reformers Luther and Calvin recognized the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, their dissolution of the priesthood meant that holding to the dogma remained less tenable to subsequent generations of reformers. In doing so they have also lost that sense of sacrifice -- personal and communal -- which is the core of the Mass and the very heart of why Jesus offers himself for us and gives himself to us. Now for them, and sadly for many of us, this sense of Christ’s presence is regarded as merely symbolic, with no real meaning and certainly no sense of mystery or awe.
At the conclusion of his encyclical “Ecclesia De Eucharistia,” Pope John Paul II wrote: “In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope. If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love.”
May we all be renewed and strengthened in our faith through the presence of Christ, as we boldly proclaim his Eucharistic presence to the world.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.