St Francis Q&A

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ - homily

One of the best experiences I’ve had here has been the Great Adventure Bible Study. This is the 24 week series that began in Lent and will resume in the Fall. It’s been amazing to see the response – we’ve had over 50 people participate in it – and the commitment. People have come out every Monday night for two hours, and this is after they’ve done at least two hours of reading during the week. We have all really enjoyed the series and gotten so much out of it. The most common reaction I’ve heard is that people are surprised to see so many connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are so many connections! It’s been so eye-opening for people as they’re closely studying a book or story from the Old Testament and then realize that it all sounds so familiar – like it’s speaking about Jesus or a story out of the Gospel.

Every Sunday we hear connections between the Old and New Testaments. The Church has organized the readings – particularly the first reading and the Gospel – so we would make the connection. This Sunday it is pretty easy to make the connection – to figure out what at least one of the themes is: blood of the covenant. As a society, we don’t do too well with blood. On the one hand, we are hyper-sensitive to blood. We can’t stand the sight of blood and don’t like to hear about it. If we get a little cut on our hand, we say, “ah! I’m bleeding”. But, on the other hand, we are going more and more to movies that show a lot of blood. Hollywood producers have seized on this, and thus, there are so many more violent movies now.

If we were listening to the first reading (Exodus 24), then we heard some things that sound familiar. It involves a priest at an altar who is offering a sacrifice of blood in making a covenant. Moses offers a sacrifice to God on an altar on behalf of the people. God enters into covenant with his people through blood. Blood seals the covenant. This is the blood of the old covenant. The people are sprinkled with blood and their bodies are cleansed. This covenant leads to the New Covenant. It is external and symbolic only, symbolic of the Eucharist.

When we come to Mass, we witness and experience the same things. There is a priest who offers a sacrifice of blood on an altar in making a covenant. But, this sacrifice does not involve the blood of animals; it is the blood of Christ! It is the blood of the new covenant which fulfills the old covenant. It is an eternal sacrifice that is not merely external; it is internal. It cleanses our souls and our consciences, as the second reading tells us. How much more efficacious is the blood of Christ to that of the blood of animals! The Eucharist brings great healing to our souls in bringing us in union with Almighty God and his peace. St Thomas Aquinas said that “no other sacrament has greater healing power” than the Eucharist.

On a side note, I noticed another connection between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible Study. There are many instances in the Old Testament of people “grumbling” about food, especially in Exodus 15. The people are in the desert, complaining that they don’t have any food. Then, God sends down bread from Heaven – this is the manna which is a definite preview of the Eucharist. Then, when Jesus talked about food, the people grumbled again. In John 6, when Jesus taught about the Eucharist, the people grumbled. So, we see continuity throughout the Bible, not just with how God acts toward us, but also with how we have acted toward Him. I heard some grumbling here in the first few months, mainly about the announcement I make before Holy Communion: “let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord”. I understand the grumbling – this was new for people to hear. I hope you know by now why I say it: I don’t want anyone receiving unworthily. St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that anyone who eats the flesh or drinks the blood of the Lord unworthily brings judgement on himself; he is responsible for the blood of Christ. I don’t want anyone who isn’t Catholic or is a Catholic not in a state of grace to do that. It is out of love for you that I do it.

Finally, it is my great hope that all of us here are Eucharistic people with our lives. This means that we don’t just come here on Sundays and worship and received the Eucharist. It means to make the Eucharist the center of our lives. Everything starts here with Christ and goes out from here. He gave his life for us; let us give our lives to him. As we hear the words of consecration (the words of institution), “this is my body…this is my blood” today, as we hear him give us his life, let us say those same words to him. Through the grace of the Eucharist, may each of say these words to God in our lives: ‘this is my body…this is my blood…which is given up for you’.


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