Today we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. This feast has its roots in the 13th century and has us focusing on a central core belief of our Catholic faith. Yet if you check sources like Catholic Answers you will find statistics that say 70% of practicing Catholics do not believe that the Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Christ.
Another more recent survey by the Center for Applied Research at Georgetown shows a better picture. Their data says 43% of practicing Catholics believe that the Eucharist is purely symbolic and not the flesh and blood of Christ. But no matter which presentation of data you choose to quote, the fact that 4 to 7 out of every ten Catholics do not hold to a central belief. This data would make anyone wonder what they are doing during liturgy or why they are even there. It certainly cannot be for the Word and homilies because the Georgetown study also shows that almost 70% say the readings and homilies are unimportant.
I cannot tell from observing people who holds those beliefs or who does not. But I can conclude through observation that far too many people are too casual while receiving the Eucharist. I can also conclude that most of those after attending mass cannot tell you what the readings were or the content of a homily. But since this is Corpus Christi Sunday let’s talk about the Eucharist.
Years ago, I often prayed and had discussions about scriptures with a friend who was a Missionary Baptist. We once discussed these versus in John 6:
Verse 51, “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Verse 53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.
Of course the connecting verse 52 is the clincher because that verse gives us the response of those who heard him say that the bread he gives is his flesh. Those who heard Jesus immediately went ballistic. They said “how can this be” simply meaning how can Jesus expect us to eat his flesh. They continued by saying “this kind of talk is hard to take.” There is nothing in their response that even suggests that Jesus meant this bread was something symbolic. His response to those who could not believe what he was saying was to repeat it and this time to say eat the flesh of the Son of Man (verse 53). Jesus was not talking symbolically; he said flesh and he meant flesh!
During our discussion my friend said “if he believed that communion was the flesh and blood of Christ as Catholics did, he would be on his hands and knees crawling to receive it. That statement by a Baptist has been something that has been on my mind for more than 40 years. This belief about the Eucharist is much deeper than what the substance of the Eucharist is; it is the about the promise of Jesus that if we eat this bread we will have life within us. I believe we have failed by not teaching our people to expect an experience of God during our liturgy.
In the miracle of feeding the thousands with a few fish and a few loaves of bread we know the multitude ate but they were given more than food. It was a miracle that involved the senses. Psalm 34:8 encourages us to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Those listening to Christ that day heard the voice of the Lord and remained in that isolated place. They would not leave in spite of not having anything to eat. They may have wondered where they would get food for themselves and their families but they were experiencing something greater than their want. So they remained and had an experience of the power of God. The psalmist tells us “his word is sweeter than honey” and we are to “see the glory of God and stand in awe.” Everything Christ did was to give us an experience of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and power. We are a sensual people who live for the experience of things that titillate our senses.
We marvel at the beauty of creation, of the face of a child, of a masterpiece of sound or sight created by talented artists. We touch, we listen, we taste, we sing and we seek beauty in display around us in nature and created by human hands. Why do we then approach our God not expecting to have an experience that involves the entirety of our being? God could have waved a wand and freed us from sin. But instead he chose to send his Son so we could experience the depth of God’s love.
The experience of God we are offered involves the tears of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and his friend Lazarus. That experience has us feeling the touch of Jesus as he touches lepers, the eyes of the blind and has him embracing the sinners. That experience has us hearing the word of God change heart and chastise harden hearts. That experience has Jesus drinking and eating at a wedding feast and at the table of sinners. That experience has us witnesses to the brutality of his death and the glory of his resurrection. That experience has him telling us if we see him we see the Father. That experience has us feel the kiss of betrayal and the kiss of a lover.
My brothers and sisters we are far too clinical in our approach to God during our liturgy, or in the way we have been taught to pray and in the way we teach our faith. We need to encourage our brothers and sisters to expect an experience. We need to encourage them to expect to be moved inwardly and respond outwardly. We need to experience the power of our hearts burning within us as he opens our eyes to the scriptures. We need to be open to the Spirit breathing life within us as the Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts.
Then as we stand before our God in the Eucharist, we will bow in adoration. Like Thomas we will say my Lord and My God and because we have the experience of new life we will become the “Aroma of God.”