The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ [A]
Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14-16 + 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 + John 6:51-58
June 14, 2020
“… the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
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click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Solemnity (2:59)
click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Solemnity (6:32)
click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Solemnity
click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Solemnity (25:48)
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 homily for this Solemnity
click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2011 homily for this Solemnity
click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2002 homily for this Solemnity
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Why did Jesus institute the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on the night before He died? Wasn’t His death on the Cross good enough? Does the celebration of the Holy Eucharist add anything to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary? If not, why does the Church teach that it’s a mortal sin to miss Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation (unless one’s bishop or pastor has given a dispensation)?
Saint Paul puts us on the right track in explaining to the Corinthians what they were doing when the Eucharist is celebrated: “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” [1 Cor 11:26]. The Eucharist is a proclamation of the death of God in the Flesh. At Holy Mass, when the Eucharistic Prayer is offered, you are transported mystically and sacramentally to the spot of Calvary, on the day of Good Friday some 2000 years ago.
But why did God give the Euchrarist this focus? For one thing, the death of Jesus is the price of our salvation. So proclaiming the death of Jesus can help us to grow morally: both in our gratitude to God and so then in our expressions of charity.
However, the Eucharist reveals an even profounder reason why the death of Jesus is what the Eucharist proclaims. This reason is the most loving reason possible, though at first glance it might not appear so. You might flinch from God loving you this much.
God chose the death of Jesus as the means of man’s redemption so that man in his turn could enter fully into the saving mysteries of Christ. By way of contrast, imagine that God had chosen to purchase man’s salvation at a different price. Imagine that God set the price of man’s salvation as the destruction of ten billion galaxies. Or imagine that God snapped His fingers to release man from the bonds of sin and death. Or imagine that God purchased man’s salvation at the price of every drop of water in all the oceans and seas of the earth.
Where would that leave you (besides awfully thirsty)? It would leave you free. It would leave you redeemed. But it would not leave you with the ability to imitate our merciful God.
Yet every human being can die. This is why Jesus, at His Last Supper, willed to institute the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the way to Calvary: so that death would be our means of entrance into the saving mysteries of Christ. So by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, we are able to be strong enough to die to our fallen selves, so as to discover our true selves. This is not easy to do. It may be simple, but it’s not easy.
Those who work in health care or in hospice care have perhaps seen a person on his death bed who dies not from his disease, but from exhaustion: expending all his energy not in living his life, but in avoiding his death. Sin occupies in our moral and spiritual life much of the same struggle. We don’t want to die. But by faithfully receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we receive Jesus’ life, which gives us the strength to die: in fact, to accept death as the means of authentic life.
This death is a daily walk for the Christian disciple. Julius Ceasar said (at least, in the words that Shakespeare put upon his lips), “Cowards die many times before their deaths. / The valiant never taste of death but once” [Julius Caesar II, 2]. Yet Ceasar was a pagan who met a gruesome end.
The Christian who follows Jesus faithfully dies not only many times, but each day. It’s this daily death, expressed as it is within our vocations and our sacrifices of time and talent for our neighbors, that gives us hope for the hour of our death, and allows us to embrace that hour in peace. The strength to walk the Way of Christian discipleship—the Way of love that leads to eternal Love—comes to each of us through the Most Blessed Sacrament.