The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Sunday 26 June 2011
(Fr. La Flynn, Diocesan Delegate, Clogher)
Introduction to the Readings
First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3. 14-16Just before they enter the Promised Land, Moses addresses the people of Israel for one final time, inviting them to recall and reflect on the experience they have come through together under God’s guidance and protection. The mysterious manna from heaven, a key symbol of the Lord’s providential care on their journey to freedom, is mentioned twice in these few lines. In response, Psalm 147 celebrates God’s choice of Israel as his beloved among all the nations.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17Paul is offering advice in response to some questions that the Corinthian Christians have raised in their correspondence to him. He draws on the meaning of their shared Eucharist to challenge the continued participation of some of their members in pagan rites.
Homily: In Murder in the Cathedral, his play about the martyrdom of St Thomas à Becket, T. S. Eliot has Thomas say to one of his priests, in defence of the poor women of Canterbury, ‘They speak better than they know, and beyond your understanding.’ In East Coker, Eliot has the memorable line ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning.’
In the Gospel text we have just read, John has Jesus speak in words beyond our understanding, words that have multiple layers of meaning. The debate that arises among ‘the Jews’ about how this man Jesus can give his flesh to eat and his blood to drink challenges us to consider again what it can be that his words mean to us. As his disciples in the 21st century, how are we to understand this language?
The International Eucharistic Congress, which we will host in Dublin next year, and the special celebration of Corpus Christi in our local churches across Ireland this weekend offer a particular opportunity to clarify and deepen our sense of Jesus’ self-giving for us and for the life of the world. It is above all in our ever-deepening celebration of the Eucharist that we come to understand and make our own of his supremely generous offer.
A good question can be worth more than a whole range of pat answers. One such question, that still remains with me three years on, is the one asked by Eanna after his first experience of Mass ‘close-up’. Seated directly in front of the altar table in the middle of the junior infant class in the school assembly hall, Eanna had watched the priest’s every gesture wide-eyed. He had obviously been listening intently, too. In the car on the way home that afternoon he asked his mother this wonderful question: ‘Why did Jesus’ friends want to eat him?’
Where would you begin in shaping an answer? In five-year-old language it would have to include the self-giving of Jesus in his ministry of word and action that reached its climax on the cross, where lifted up from the earth he is drawing us all in friendship to himself. In time (for Eanna does not easily let go of a question that intrigues him) our answer would extend to the whole context of the salvation story. The Exodus journey of God’s chosen people from slavery to freedom, sustained by the heavenly manna, was a key experience in that story. Moses was urgent with them: Remember…Never forget… We would need to speak about the One whom Jesus knew and revealed as Father, living and life-giving, so that the friends who eat Jesus draw life from the Father as life’s source. And a complete answer to Eanna’s question would, in time, need to address – as Paul did for his friends in Corinth – the implications that eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking Jesus’ blood hold for our behaviour from day to day. As the footwashing story in John’s gospel makes clear, Jesus’ command: ‘Do this in memory of me’ refers not only to the ritual supper but also to deep love and service in action.
Our recently published National Directory for Catechesis Share the Good News, is clear that bringing faith to full growth necessitates continuing faith development through all of life. The annual celebration of the feast that we call Corpus Christi, with the popular devotions that have become part of its tradition, is one of the ways that we honour our need to continually sustain and develop our Eucharistic faith through our adult years. The forthcoming International Eucharistic Congress, with its catechetical programme organised around the themes of gathering, hearing God’s Word, sharing the Bread of Life and being sent into the world of our times offers us a unique opportunity to grow into a full, adult answer to Eanna’s wonderful question about why the friends of Jesus want to eat him.
To paraphrase Eliot’s words, Eanna asked ‘better than he knew and beyond his understanding.’ May God’s Spirit guide us in our on-going reflection on our experience of the mystery of the Eucharist, so that, far from missing its meaning, it may be ever more clearly revealed in our daily lives.
Prayer of the Faithful
Now that we have heard God’s Word and proclaimed our faith, we pray with one mind and heart for what we need to live as God’s people
1. Pope Benedict, for our bishop (N) and for the priests on whose ministry we depend for the Eucharist – that their faith may be strengthened and that they may be faithful witnesses to your living presence among us. Lord hear us.
2. For all who are baptised – that, though we are many, we may become one body through our sharing in the Eucharist. Lord hear us
3. For all who are confirmed – that the Spirit of Jesus may continue to give us the various gifts we need for the various kinds of service to which we are called in the community of the Church. Lord hear us.
4. For married people – that their faithful love for one another may be a visible sign of the love of God and an inspiration to their children and to their neighbours. Lord hear us.
5. For all who are sick – that the spirit of Jesus may come upon them with His healing and that they may always be at the heart of our communion and of our community.
6. For all who have died – that, in communion with all the saints, they may take their places at the table in the kingdom of heaven.
Father, hear the prayers which we make, inspired by your Holy Spirit, and grant what we need through Christ our Lord. Amen.