Saturday, June 17, 2017

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Most Controversial Food

There are lists of the most controversial foods on earth. Some list 10 of these. Others have 15 on their list. Whatever the number in the list, it shows that there are foods which are controversial, foods that bring on a debate whether we humans should eat them or not.

On one list which is found in the the first food listed as controversial is Beluga Caviar. It is the salted egg of the fish sturgeon which is found in the Caspian and Black Seas. One reason why it is so controversial is because it is very expensive, $4,000 per pound or $8,800 per kilogram. (This is about 400,000 in Philippine pesos, where an ordinary fish costs only 100 pesos per kilo.) And it is controversial also because the fish which produces this egg is becoming rare.

But there is a food which is the most controversial of all. It has spawned debates all over the world for centuries, and the debate is not over yet.

That food is the subject of our Gospel reading today. It created a stir among the people when Jesus introduced this food for the first time. This food was the reason why many of his disciples left him. It seems that all the seventy two disciples mentioned in Luke 10:1 whom Jesus sent before on a mission left him. Only the twelve remained. And were it not (humanly speaking) for the very prompt reply of Peter to Jesus' question whether any of the twelve would also leave him, some of the twelve might have dropped from the company of Jesus. For the Jews it was controversial because it was most repugnant to them to eat human flesh and drink blood.  

This food indeed was very controversial to have effected such a result. In reality it is the most controversial food in the world.

Children in the elementary grades are now taught the food pyramid, the kinds of food in a drawing like a pyramid which they need to consume in proper quantities in order to grow, glow and go. These are the carbohydrates, the proteins, the fats, free sugars, the vitamins and minerals. This food pyramid evolved into MyPyramid. And this in turn was changed into MyPlate, where the drawing now is not a pyramid but a plate with the kind and quantity of the different foods drawn proportionately in the plate.

All these foods serve to nourish the body and mind or soul.  But this most controversial of all foods is not meant to nourish the body and soul only. It is meant primarily to nourish the spirit, our spirit. This is the only food which can truly nourish our spirit.

This food is controversial for other reasons. Theologians have debated for centuries whether this food is flesh and blood in the form of bread or only bread wine but they point to the reality of flesh and blood.

We Catholics have maintained throughout the history of the Church that this food is actually flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. What we see are bread and wine but actually they are the flesh and blood of Jesus. The process whereby this happens is called by our theologians as transubstantiation. The non-Catholics who evolved from the Reformation think that this food is actually bread and wine but they refer or point to the reality of Jesus' flesh and blood. Some of them call the process of how this happens as consubstantiation. This means that the bread and wine are still there, but so are the flesh and blood of Christ. Our Church teaches that what we see as bread is not really bread but the flesh of Jesus and what we see as wine is not really wine but the blood of Jesus.

This debate is still going on and will continue to go on, until Jesus comes back. 

This is the significance of the solemnity which we celebrate today, the solemnity of the body and blood of Christ. We are celebrating Jesus' giving to us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. These foods nourish our spirits. There are cases of saints whose body and soul were also nourished by this food alone, as was the case with St. Catherine of Siena who ate only this food for many years.

One of the writers on the Holy Scriptures whom I liked very much when I was still studying formal theology was William Barclay. He explains the Bible in such a simple way that the average person is able to understand him. This is not surprising when we read that Barclay had dedicated his life to "making the best biblical scholarship available to the average reader".

Later I found out that William Barclay had become a universalist, a person who believes that eventually all will be saved, even Judas the traitor, even those who blasphemed God and died unrepentant. But this does not make all his writings of no value. After all we have great theologians who wrote questionable teachings, like Origen and Tertullian, but who wrote wonderful works of theology.

I introduce William Barclay because he has something so beneficial for us in our attitude towards the Eucharist, although he belonged to the Church of Scotland. His writings on this matter reflect the views of St. Teresa of Avila in her emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. Here are some thoughts from Barclay in his commentary on the body and blood of Jesus.

For Barclay to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus is to feed our heart, feed our mind, feed our soul with the thought of Jesus’ humanity, so that when we are discouraged and in despair, when we are beaten to our knees and disgusted with life and living, we remember that Jesus took our life and our struggles as his. When we do this suddenly our life and flesh are clad with glory for they are touched with God. To eat Christ's body is to feed on the thought of his manhood until our own manhood is strengthened and cleansed and irradiated by his.

To drink Jesus’ blood is to take his life into the very center of our being, we take his life into the very core of our hearts. When Jesus enters into our hearts we can feed upon the life and the strength and the dynamic vitality that he gives to us. Jesus said that we must drink his blood. He is saying: "You must stop thinking of me as a subject for theological debate; you must take me into you, and you must come into me; and then you will have real life."

Barclay continues, when he told us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he was telling us to feed our hearts and souls and minds on his humanity, and to revitalize our lives with his life until we are filled with the life of God.

In the first reading we are reminded that the Israelites ate manna in the desert for forty years. The word manna means “What is it?” This came from the sky. It was a figure of the food which Jesus would give us, his own flesh and blood for the sustenance of our spirits.

In the second reading Paul writes about the Eucharistic meal which the first Christians partook of to remember Jesus. He clearly tells the Corinthian Christians by a rhetorical question that when they drink the wine they participate in the blood of Christ and when they eat the bread they participate in the body of Christ.

Jesus gives us himself as our food. There is a curious detail here from the Evangelist John or Jesus' choice of words. In verses 49-53 the word used for eating the flesh and blood of Jesus is the ordinary word for eating which in Greek is esthio. In verse 54, however, the word used is no longer esthio but trogo, which means I "munch" or I "gnaw", that is, I keep on chewing or biting the raw flesh and blood of Jesus. It is continuous eating or eating with relish for quite some time, enjoying every bite and chewing of it.

This is what Jesus wants. He wants to be eaten by us again and again until we become more and more like him, our body becoming like his body and our blood or life—because life is in the blood, becoming like his blood and life.

For our prayer today let us take the first stanza of the hymn, Lord, Who at Your First Eucharist Did Pray. This hymn by William H. Turton tells us that the final result of our eating the body and blood of Jesus is that we become more and more like him and thus we will all love one another and there will be one Church as Jesus prayed during his last Supper. Let us bow our heads.

Lord, who at your first Eucharist did pray
that all your church might be for ever one,
grant us at every Eucharist to say
with longing heart and soul, 'Your will be done':
O may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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