The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 14
Hebrews 9: 11-15, Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26
Two Sunday Solemnities in a row: Last week, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and this week the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, formerly named “Corpus Christ,” the Body of Christ. These two Solemnities have a few things in common. First of all, they are both important doctrines of the Church. Second, they are both strict theological mysteries. Mysteries are usually defined as something that we are not able to understand with our human reason alone. Another popular definition now is that mysteries are endlessly understandable. This in turn gives rise to analogies and metaphors in hopes of a solution to the mystery.
Last week’s Feast of the Holy Trinity called to mind an old story about St. Augustine walking along the beach thinking about solutions for the mystery of the Holy Trinity. As he was walking, he saw a small child sitting on the beach and digging a hole in the sand. Augustine stopped and asked the child what he was doing. The child replied with the obvious, “I’m digging a hole in the sand and when I finish I’m going to put the sea into the hole.” Augustine proceeded to point out to the child that it was impossible to put the whole sea into that little hole. The child replied, “I will put the sea into this hole in the sand before you figure out the solution to the Holy Trinity.”
The same story could be used with regard to this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Various explanations and analogies have been attempted but the truth of the matter was pointed out centuries ago by, I believe, Origen, one of the Fathers of the Church: Trying to apply human analogies and metaphors to divine mysteries is not going to work. And by the way, who are we to tell God what he can and cannot do?
The first reading for today’s feast from the Book of Exodus has Moses sending certain young men of the Israelites to sacrifice young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half the blood and put it in large bowls; the other half he splashed on the altar of sacrifice. Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying: “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews recalls a similar sprinkling in the Jewish ritual of the Day of Atonement. In these Jewish rituals, blood was and is a symbol of life and an agent of purification to remove the sins of the people and prepare them for a new life in the years to come.
We see here the significance of Jesus shedding his blood on the cross for the remission of our sins. Jesus is the perfect high priest and the perfect sacrifice in his death on the cross. The precious blood of Jesus, shed once on the cross, accomplished what the blood of sacrificial animals could never accomplish. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us, purifies us, from our sins and makes it possible for us to worship the living God. It is through the blood of Christ that we are able to have a relationship with God at all.
In Mark’s Gospel read on this Sunday, there is much in common with the Seder Meal that is celebrated in parishes at the time of the Jewish Passover. What is different between the Seder Meal and the Eucharist is Jesus’ declaration that the bread of the Eucharist is his body and the wine of the Eucharist is his blood. This is the new covenant, the new coming together of God and humanity.
All of these readings for our Feast today, if they tell us anything, tell us that Jesus has given us something very special in his gift of the Holy Eucharist. Last Sunday we spoke of giving reverence and awe to God in view of the Holy Trinity of Three Persons in One God. We should also show the same reverence and awe for the Holy Eucharist. Both of these mysteries, celebrated on consecutive Sundays, remind us of the reverence and awe due to Almighty God for his greatness and his gifts to us.
As a priest I am privileged to distribute the Body and Blood of Jesus to hundreds of people every week. Some of these beautiful people, and I myself in celebrating Mass every day, take this beautiful gift of Jesus for granted. There are certain precious things in life that should not become habits where we do them without thinking and without preparation. The Eucharist is one of these precious things. Let’s all of us try and take a little more time before receiving this august Sacrament to focus on Who and What we are receiving (and, incidentally, getting rid of the chewing gum). The Eucharist for us is life, purification and cleansing, it raises us to partake of the Divine. What a precious gift!!
Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, June 15
The Gospel for this Monday in Ordinary Time resumes with the fifth antithesis of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” This antithesis is concerned with the so-called ius talionis, the right of retaliation, of the Jewish law. This was based on the principle of equal reciprocity. The law placed limits on retribution so things wouldn’t get out of hand with greater vengeance for a misdeed than was called for. In the legal code of Hammerabi the principle of exact reciprocity is very clear, For example, if one person caused the death of another person’s child, that person’s child would be put to death. This, of course, has been replaced in newer modes of legal theory. And it goes without saying that the merciful and forgiving Jesus would put the kibosh on all of this.
Jesus shows us there is another way, a higher way, of responding to harm or injustices inflicted by another with a positive act that can encourage the breaking of the cycle of violence and one in which the reconciliation of the two parties can be achieved. In actual cases of this nature we should remember that vigilante type activity is wrong. Charles Bronson’s movie Death Wish is not the way to go. Our civil law is well equipped to handle such cases when necessary. We are not to take matters into our own hands with violent retaliation. The sixth and final antithesis is going to have a bearing here too. We should further remember how Jesus forgave those who crucified him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Revenge never entered his mind.
Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, June 16
Mt. 5: 43-48
We now come to the sixth and final antithesis: “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
What a marvelous quote! Marriage Encounter used to emphasize (and maybe still does) that love is not a feeling but a decision and the decision Jesus challenges us with is to remain faithful to his covenant of love. Nowhere in Scripture is there a command to hate an enemy. The word hate can also mean to “love less” which is pretty much how it effected the Jewish people. They loved their Jewish brothers and sisters more than strangers and probably wouldn’t go out of their way to do much for a stranger in need. Reversing this trend is the very point of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel (c. 10).
There is an old cliché that I have seen proven true many times over: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Hatred, treating people disrespectfully, shaming them, putting them down, taking advantage of others, ignoring them, failing to listen to others – all of these ways of treating others badly are certainly not the way of Jesus. We may not like some people and do not care to be around them. And I am sure there are some who feel that same way about me. Fine! So be it! But that doesn’t mean I can’t pray for their well-being and wish them well in their journey through life. What good has hatred every accomplished? It only makes everyone concerned miserable. Loving and being loved makes us all happy.
Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, June 17
Mt. 6: 1-6, 16-18
The treatment of the antitheses is now completed and Jesus in today’s Gospel shifts gears to talk about a few things that are pillars of the Jewish spiritual life: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The main point of this discourse is to discourage us from drawing attention to ourselves, from blowing our own horn, when we perform these spiritual pillars. Jesus rules all this stuff out right off the bat. It is pride pure and simple and has no place in Jesus’ way, truth and life.
Some of us think we are really something; look at me everyone and see how great I am, and that is a crock and a half! When we really pause and take a good look at ourselves, to truly know ourselves (humility), we see all of our weaknesses and faults and realize we are no better than anyone else is this whole world. Jesus calls self-inflating hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is posing as something or someone we are not. We are, rather, to focus on the Lord and not on ourselves.
Humility is the basis of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. We need to remind ourselves of our own defects and the need to be aware of them and to help others. These three pillars of Jewish spirituality are good for us also. Focus on God and one another and not on myself. Once again, life is not all about me. Blowing our own horn, hypocrisy, making ourselves appear to be what we are not, is not the way Jesus wants us to go.
Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, June 18
Mt. 6: 7-15
In our Gospel for today, Jesus tells his disciples how they are to pray and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. Luke has a shorter version. The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God and when doing so we are to shut other things out of our minds and focus on Who it is we are communicating with.
Jesus tells us that when we pray we are not to “babble on like the pagans.” Jesus here is criticizing those who think they can manipulate God by the sheer multiplication of words and time. The Lord’s Prayer is really a short prayer and right to the point of our powerlessness. Words are external. It is our internal disposition that Jesus is concerned with: our powerlessness, our surrender to his ways, our need of him for our happiness and peace, our need to thank him for all he does for us, that makes the difference.
Finally, as we have seen before, communication with God is necessary to progress in our intimate relationship with him. We are his children, seeking the Wisdom of a Father in our lives.
Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, June 19
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
On this Friday of Ordinary Time the Church calendar celebrates another Solemnity. Now we have had three of the sixteen solemnities in a row: The Most Holy Trinity, The Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi), and now, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I found a short history of this feast on-line. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus goes all the way back to the 11th century, but it remained strictly a private devotion until the 16th century. The first feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated in Rennes, France, on August 31, 1670, through the efforts of St. John Eudes (1602-1680). It took the later visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) to make the devotion a universal feast of the Church.
The “great apparition” or vision of St. Margaret Mary took place on June 16, 1675, during the octave of the feast of Corpus Christi in which vision Christ asked her to request that this feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi (remember that previously Corpus Christi was always celebrated on a Thursday), in reparation for the ingratitude of people for the sacrifice Christ made for them in reconciling them to the Father. In 1856, Pope Pius IX extended this feast to the universal Church.
We would all do well today, I believe, to be aware of our ingratitude to Jesus for all he has done and still is doing for all of us daily. Like most everything else in life, we human beings manage to arrive at a point where we take it for granted. AA always urges the recovering alcoholics to develop an “attitude of gratitude” to their Higher Power for their gift of quality sobriety. Not a bad attitude for all of us to acquire toward our Lord Jesus whose gifts for us are beyond numbering.
Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, June 20
Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Following the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Church calendar is the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This devotion is based primarily upon what we read in the Scriptures. In the Gospel of St. Luke there are two references to the Heart of Mary. These are found in 2: 34-35, and 2: 51.
Luke 2: 34-35 reads: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his Mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
And Luke 2: 51 reads: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.”
It was Pope Pius XII, in the midst of the Second World War, who put the whole world under the special protection of Jesus’ Mother Mary by consecrating the world to her Immaculate Heart. In 1944 he decreed that in the future the whole Church should celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This was really not a new devotion. In the 17th century, St. John Eudes preached it along with his preaching on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was Pius XII who instituted the feast for the whole Church, so as to obtain by her intercession “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue” (Decree of May 4, 1944.)
Most Holy Mary, Mother of God, intercede for us sinners.