This is the homily that I preached for Corpus Christi at WSU’s Newman Center:
Corpus Christi [C]
Gen 14:18-20 + 1 Cor 11:23-26 + Sequence + Lk 9:11-17
June 23, 2019
“I sought to hear the voice of God / And climbed the topmost steeple, / But God declared: “Go down again– / I dwell among the people.”
Those lines are often attributed to one of our parish’s patrons, Blessed John Henry Newman. Although there’s no actual record of him ever speaking or writing those words, they still bear a truth that today’s feast of Corpus Christi focuses upon. That truth is God’s closeness to fallen man.
But to appreciate this truth, we need to go back to “the beginning”. As you know, “[i]n the beginning,” God created man in an earthly paradise. God intended this earthly paradise to exist in perpetuity. You might say that this was God’s “Plan A”.
However, mankind freely chose to bring sin into this world. Through his sins, fallen man transformed this world into a place of death and hatred. Fallen man thwarted God’s “Plan A”.
So at that point, God had a choice to make. What to do about fallen man and this world of sin and death? God had several different options.
The Lord, in all justice and fairness, could have abandoned man, turning His divine attention to other parts of the universe. Man in that case would surely have fallen further and further from God’s design for human nature and human society. But thanks be to God, God did not choose to abandon us.
As an alternative, instead of abandoning him, God had before Him the choice of coming down to earth to deal with fallen man. In this, however, God still had a variety of very different options to choose from.
God could have come to earth and dealt with fallen man as a strict disciplinarian, using the rod in an attempt to reform mankind. Or even worse, He could have come to earth and dealt with fallen man as a harsh judge who was only interested in punishing man, rather than trying to reform him. Think about that last option. For the remainder of human history, God could have dwelt on earth as a punisher.
Thanks be to God, that’s not the “Plan B” that God chose. Reflect upon God’s actual choice, which as Catholics we call “salvation history”.
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Bishop Eugene Gerber, of happy memory, chose—when he was made a bishop—an episcopal motto consisting of a single word: the Hebrew word “Emmanuel”, which means “God is with us”. St. Matthew the Evangelist, in the first chapter of his account of the Gospel, narrates how “the angel of the Lord” announced the Incarnation to St. Joseph. The angel spoke to him about Mary, explaining: “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The Holy Name of Jesus literally means “God saves”. But we should never take that truth for granted. God never had to save fallen man. He certainly could, in all justice, have condemned fallen man instead of saving him. God could have chosen to enter our world in order to condemn us. In that case, God still would have been “God with us”, but He would have been “with us” in order to condemn us. In and of itself, God being “with us” is not the Good News. The Good News is that God is with us in order to save us.
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi is not only about the closeness of God to us. Today’s feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ honors and celebrates and rejoices in the truth of how God chooses to save fallen man.
Like with the earlier example, God—being divine and omnipotent—could have chosen to save us in many different ways. God could have chosen merely to snap His fingers and forgive fallen man. God could have chosen to redeem fallen man by destroying all other creatures on the planet. God could have used an infinite number of ways to save fallen man. But what means did He choose?
God chose to send His own divine Son down from Heaven to become a member of the human race, so that that divine Son could offer up His Flesh and Blood, soul and divinity on the Cross, on Calvary, on Good Friday. That’s the Good News. That’s the way in which God chose to be “God with us”: by dying so that you might have life, and have it more abundantly. That’s the heart of God’s “Plan B”.
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The mystery of today’s feast of Corpus Christi celebrates God’s infinite goodness: not only in choosing to redeem fallen man instead of rejecting him; and not only in choosing to redeem him by means of His Son’s atoning death; but also in gifting to His Son’s Church the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. What is this gift for?
It’s not uncommon to hear some of our separated brethren complaining about our Catholic belief in and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. They’ll say, “Jesus died once and for all 2000 years ago on the mount of Calvary! Why do you Catholics have to claim that Jesus is sacrificed again and again, day after day, at every altar where the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered?” If you’re from the Deep South, where my parents lived for three years during my time in seminary, you’ve likely seen and heard even harsher words on television worship programs, insisting that the Catholic Mass is an act of idolatry: an insult to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary, thinking that a man in vestments can add anything to what the Son of God accomplished on Good Friday!
What are we to make of such claims about the central act of our Catholic worship? Each of us needs to be able to respond to those claims: not only to help others draw closer to the fullness of the Christian Faith, but also for our own sake. Each of us needs to understand the Most Blessed Sacrament better, so that we can love the Most Blessed Sacrament better.
The Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist does not, in truth, attempt to add anything to Jesus’ victory on Calvary. The Sacrament of the Eucharist makes Jesus’ victory present, here and now. As God the Father chose to send His Son down from Heaven into this fallen world, so the Son of God chooses to make His self-sacrifice present to us in our own fallen age. The Eucharist is God with us.
If you’re a fan of science fiction, you might consider as an analogy—a weak and limping analogy, admittedly, but one that can help us nonetheless—the analogy of a time machine. Consider a time machine that can open a portal in time, transporting you to any moment in history. The Sacrament of the Eucharist does, through God’s power, something of the reverse: it makes the past present. Every celebration of the Mass brings the moment of Jesus’ atoning death on Good Friday to the altar where the Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated. This is a sacred mystery, of course. It’s important that we try to understand better what this mystery means, so that we can love Jesus through this mystery. Nonetheless, we should never think that our human minds can exhaust the meaning of such a divine mystery.
The Most Blessed Sacrament is “God with us”: Jesus making Himself—in the form of His self-sacrifice on Calvary—present to us, so that we can not only worship Him, but also worthily receive Him. Although, like the centurion, we are unworthy that He should enter under our roof, He only needs to say the word, and we shall be healed. That word is what Jesus pronounced on the evening before His atoning death. At the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the Sacrifice of the Mass, and Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are the words that make Jesus’ self-sacrifice present to us: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it. For this is my Body, which will be given up for you.”
Jesus makes His self-sacrificial Self present through the celebration of Holy Mass, so that you might worthily receive Him: so that His Body and Blood, soul and divinity can be united with your body and blood, soul and humanity: so that Jesus can be “God with you” in the most profound way possible this side of Heaven.
Jesus invites you to accept Him as “Emmanuel”. Jesus invites you to receive Him as “Emmanuel”, so that His life might be your life: so that your life might transformed into His living instrument: so that you might serve Him as one member of His Mystical Body, the Church. The Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist is “God with us” in order to strengthen us for our days in this world, and so lead us into eternal life once our days in this world are completed.