Monday, June 27, 2011

Homily for Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Homily for the Solemnity
of Corpus Christi

May 28, 1978
Deut. 8: 2-3, 14-16
Salesian Center, Columbus

This year (2011), Corpus Christi fell on June 26; from June 21 to 25 I was en route to and from, or taking part in, the Catholic Media Conference in Pittsburgh. Thus I didn't have a chance to write out a homily, and on the 26th I preached to the Ursulines from an 8-word outline--at my usual length! In lieu of that nugget, here's a homily from 9 days after my presbyteral ordination.

The 1st or 2d time I braved the Mt. Carmel East emergency room by myself,* an elderly man was ambulanced in with massive heart failure. His wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grand-daughter came in to wait it out, and there I was, trying to be of use, of help, of something, in a tiny private room with them. How do we minister to people in basic human situations? in extreme human situations?

To care, and to show we care, we must enter into the situation ourselves. We must somehow participate in the experience, become present, and become vulnerable. We simply cannot remain spectators.

In the situation I cited, the case was extreme. Fortunately for all of us, at least as far as I was concerned, one of the Holy Cross sisters joined us, and when the bad news came after about 15 minutes, the doctor, too, was most compassionate. Together, we all of us experienced this man’s death in some way, and sister’s experience, mine, and the doctor’s were instruments for Christ’s care toward these stricken people.

In such situations, words may help; but generally they don’t. Only a shared presence is of value.

Human misery and death are certainly an extreme condition of our race. But they aren’t the worst extreme. There is sin. There is alienation from God and one another. These hurt us mortally. These tear us apart more than physical death.

And we are fortunate to have the pastoral presence of the Lord God. He calls us to himself, to follow him thru the desert wasteland to fellowship with him to a land of milk and honey. He bestows his gifts on us to sustain us in the desert of our extreme human situation.

But his words spoken thru Moses, his manna given from the sky, aren’t enuf to keep us with him and to heal our situation. We insist on going our own way and staying lost in the desert wastes of sin and alienation. What more can he do for us, then?

“Man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3). The spoken word isn’t concrete enuf for us, so God has outdone himself and given us a Word enfleshed. The presence of Jesus is as pastoral and compassionate a presence to the misery and alienation of our human condition as God can devise. He has participated in our whole situation; he has become vulnerable, just like us. God truly cares—not just with manna that feeds us for a day but doesn’t prevent death or alienation or infidelity—but with the Word of life, the Word really present among men.

“Man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Out of God’s mouth proceeds also the Breath, the Spirit, who vivifies and sanctifies us in the corporeal absence of Jesus. This is the same Spirit who overshadowed Mary and enabled the Word to become flesh.

But the compassion and the concern of our God for our frailty, our pain, our wounds, goes still further! Jesus the Word of life is still with us bodily, in the Bread of life, again made flesh by the overshadowing of the Spirit.
Bread…bread and wine! Not caviar and martinis, not any exotic or expensive food, but abundant, common, universal bread and wine—the food for all mankind, just as God’s compassion is universally present to us. In his com-passion, he has truly suffered with us. And now…now, he invites us to be compassionate with him. He is present to us to be eaten as food. We are present to him to become part of his body given up for the human race. His Bread is a promise to us of salvation, of eternal life. Our eating his Bread is a promise to him that we share his com-passion for his whole Body, for all men. In this food, more than any other, do we become what we eat.

What a gift, what a presence, we have received! After that fatherless family left Mt. Carmel, our only presence to each other has been in thought. But God’s Word among us not only gives life but asks us to be taken up, given up with him so that we who receive might also give. Truly, we abide in him and he in us (cf. John 6:56).

* Note for blog readers: this was during my clinical pastoral education as a student of theology; I think it was after my ordination to the diaconate in the fall of 1977.

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