25 June 2011
Homily of Bishop Leo O’Reilly for the Feast of Corpus Christi
The feast we mark today, the Body and Blood of Christ, is a celebration of praise and thanks to God for the wonderful gift of the Eucharist to the Church and the world. Yesterday in Knock many of us took part in the National Eucharistic Congress celebrations in preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress which will be held around this time next year. The celebrations are continuing in Knock today, but each bishop in the country is back in his own Cathedral celebrating the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ just as we are doing here. Today we have representatives of all the parishes in the diocese to celebrate this feast with us. A few weeks ago we received the Congress Bell here in the Cathedral and in our parishes. We heard the call to repentance, the invitation to prepare, to renew our faith in the Eucharist and our appreciation of this tremendous mystery. Today, as a diocese, we continue the journey of preparation and renewal that will culminate in the international celebration in Dublin next year.
The teaching of Jesus on the Eucharist in today’s gospel is extraordinary. I sometimes wonder have we got so used to hearing it that it passes over us. I think if we actually heard what it’s saying we be shocked. It certainly shocked the first people who heard it. Up to that point there were massive crowds following Jesus. They couldn’t get enough of him. But when they heard this teaching most of them left him and no longer went around with him as disciples. They couldn’t accept it. Jesus said to the apostles, his closest followers, will you go away too? Happily they didn’t.
So what did Jesus say on that occasion? He said:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever… and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’
‘I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day’.
We have to eat his body and drink his blood, or we will not have life. It must have sounded ghoulish! Of course Jesus does not mean that we eat his physical flesh and drink his physical blood. It is not the earthly body of Jesus we receive. It is his risen body, his glorified body, the body of Christ. We receive his body and blood sacramentally in the Eucharist. But we receive the same Jesus who spoke to the crowds at Capernaum. He is really and truly present in the bread and wine we receive. That is hard to believe. It requires a big leap of faith and a lot of humility. The apostles found it hard to accept too. They didn’t really understand any more than we do. But they were prepared to stick with him. They had learned to believe in him and to trust him. We hope we can believe and trust in him too.
So maybe it’s not that surprising if many of Jesus’ disciples today have left and no longer follow him by coming to Mass or participating in the life of the parish. Let’s not blame ourselves for that. Faith is never easy. When the pews were packed and the churches were full, did everyone really buy into what was going on? Or was it a case for many of just following the crowd?
Whatever about that, the important question is: what about us who are still here? Do we really believe? Do I believe when I place that wafer on my tongue that I have received no less than Christ himself, body and blood, soul and divinity? That is the challenge for us today. This year, this time of preparation for the Eucharistic Congress, is a time to deepen our understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist, to learn more about it, to deepen our faith in it and to renew our commitment to taking part in the celebration of this great mystery of our salvation every week in our community.
If you’re a Christian in Ireland today you are swimming against the current. It’s a far cry from the Ireland of the last Eucharistic Congress where the full panoply of the state was part and parcel of the celebrations. It’s a far cry even from the Pope’s visit in 1979 when the whole country seemed to be caught up in a warm wave of religious enthusiasm. We live in a world where our faith is often challenged, sometimes ridiculed or at best ignored. We live in a media world which regards religion as unscientific, unfashionable and perhaps a sign of weak-mindedness or worse.
So how do we sustain our faith? How can we continue to swim when the current against us is so strong? One thing for sure is, we cannot do it alone. We can only do it together. We can only do it with the support of others, with the help of a community of like-minded people. And we can only do it with Christ. And that means coming to Mass regularly and taking part in it fully and actively. Our generation were so hung up on the obligation to go to Mass every Sunday that we kind of forgot why we had to go. And when the young people began to ask, why to do I have to go to Mass we found it hard to give convincing answers. But we and they were focussing on the wrong question.
Why to do I have to go to Mass on Sunday’? is the wrong question. The question is, ‘why do I need to go to Mass on Sunday’? I need to go to Mass on Sunday to meet Christ and to be nourished at his table and to share his life. I need to recharge my spiritual batteries so that I can go out and live like a follower of Jesus on Monday and every other day, despite the obstacles or the ridicule that I meet. And I need to go to Mass on Sunday to be part of my community of like-minded people, people who share my faith and my convictions. I need to go to support them with my prayers and my presence. And I need to feel the support of their prayers and their presence as I try to live out my life as a follower of Jesus. In other words I need communion – union with Christ and union with others. And that is what this Congress is all about. In fact that is its theme: The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another.
Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678