Reflection on the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
The tradition of the Church has always made this day of Corpus Christi a solemn and beautiful feast honoring and celebrating the gift of the Eucharist. It’s a call to memory for many. Processions with the Eucharist. Beauty, solemnity. Music. Girls in white First Communion dresses. But Luke’s Gospel challenges us to make it more than a nostalgic memory but to see Corpus Christi in the context of a radical call to discipleship. Luke’s Gospel shifts the focus away from the early community’s expectation of Jesus’ imminent return to the pressing day-to-day concerns of the Christian community in the world.
The Gospel of Luke is, I think, a Gospel for today, for this time in the history of the world, and for us especially, for this time in Loretto. Here at Loretto we are moving into, creating different and new celebrations of the Body and Blood of Christ in the context of our being a Community not able to celebrate Mass in the absence of a priest. We are moving into, creating new and different understandings and practices of mission in the context of our aging into the final years of Loretto as a congregation. Luke’s Gospel is a call to radical discipleship set in the context of our Loretto world with our historical reality. That makes Luke’s Gospel a special gift, a timely gift, for us today.
Donald Senior writes that, “Throughout the Gospel Luke calls upon the Christian disciple to identify with the master Jesus, who is caring and compassionate toward the poor and lowly, the outcast, the sinner, and the afflicted, toward all those who recognize their dependence on God.” He also notes that “Jesus is severe toward the proud and self-righteous, and particularly toward those who place their material wealth before the service of God and God’s people.” He reminds me of Father Nerinckx, who told the early sisters that, should this poor society ever have more than needed for its own sustenance, it should increase its charity not its comfort. Senior continues, “No gospel writer is more concerned with the role of the spirit in the life of Jesus and the Christian disciple, with the importance of prayer, or with Jesus’ concern for women.”
Luke is concerned with the Christian response to the needs of the world. Present tense. So we need to see the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Eucharist on which we center our lives, in terms of mission in the world.
The reading of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that we hear today is not freestanding but is sandwiched within Jesus’ sending the Twelve out to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick, Herod’s questions of who this Jesus is and Peter’s own answer to that question, and the Transfiguration. It’s a multilayered, Dagwood kind of sandwich. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is in itself a miraculous event. It occurs when Jesus has been speaking of the kingdom of God — as a sign of the abundance of the kingdom. It’s also a connection back to Moses and manna in the desert and forward to the Last Supper and what we recognize as the institution of the Eucharist — which Paul recounts in the second reading. It’s a partial answer to that who-is-Jesus question. Jesus is the new Moses providing food for his people. Remaining with them into the future and continuing to feed.
For the Twelve being sent out as they were, it is their first foray out into a needy and suffering world, into a world of real people, without Jesus in the lead. He tells them to take nothing for the journey — not a walking stick or food or money. They are to be vulnerable — to engage mission with vulnerability — to experience their dependence on God and the power of Jesus’ spirit within them. It’s reminiscent of Jesus opening the scroll of the Prophet Isiah earlier in the Gospel and reading his own job description “…the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” So the Twelve proclaim the kingdom. They heal the sick. And the Apostles come back excited.
Now they find themselves out in the wilderness, where Moses once was, surrounded by a huge crowd — a huge and hungry crowd who have nothing to eat. As the day is drawn to a close, they tell Jesus to send the huge crowd away so they can get themselves something to eat. And Jesus tells them, ‘’You give them something to eat yourselves.” You feed 5,000 men and the women and the children — the 12 of you. You become the new Moses. They have only five loaves and two fishes. Hardly enough for themselves.
Jesus, out of compassion for the crowd, and perhaps for the Twelve, takes the bread and fish, prays over them, breaks them and gives them to the Apostles to give to the people. Once again he pulls them into the vulnerability of mission. He gave them the broken pieces of five loaves and two fish. What he gives them is still not enough to feed everyone much less to have 12 baskets — enough for each of the 12 tribes of Israel – left over. So the Apostles had to risk becoming part of the multiplication themselves. They, too, multiplied the bread and fed the hungry.
While he was still Pope, in a reflection on the Eucharist, Benedict wrote that our celebration of the Eucharist might be valid and licit, but that unless it is lived for the poor it is not true. That’s what we are invited into in every celebration of Eucharist — be it Mass or the emerging Eucharistic service we celebrate this morning. To make it true. We’re to take the bread we receive and become it and multiply it into the hungry world around us — having the courage and the vulnerability to believe that we, each in his or her own hunger and brokenness, is enough. That the world can be fed. That Jesus will continue to nourish us, That the kingdom can come. Will continue to come.