The Body and Blood of Christ – June 26, 2011

 The Last Supper – Before and After Restoration

What is good Eucharistic theology? 

When I made my First Holy Communion, as we said back in the day, in May of 1965 at Assumption Church in White Plains, NY, I knew all about kneeling, reverence and holiness. When I was not in the first or second pew fidgeting with my classmates, I did try hard to adopt all sorts of postures of holiness.

One thing I liked to do was to hold my the palms of my hands together so that all my fingers lined up and pointed to the sky. I thought that God liked the perfection of that. I also liked to have good posture when on the kneeler in the pew. Another important thing was how I knelt at the altar rail when I went to communion. I liked that it was red and smooth and just slightly plush, which cushioned my knees. I liked the feel of the cool marble of the altar rail if I were to even lean against or touch it accidentally. I also liked staring at my potential new boyfriend (who at the time I was sure that I would marry) Tommy Criscione. Tommy had that plum job as altar boy, wearing his red cassock and white surplice. I was so jealous but my crush on him overrode my feelings of envy.

Then there was the way that I felt – when the host melted I thought that Jesus was gone, not to return for another week! Panic would set in. Talk about panic – it would really set in when the white host would get stuck to the roof of my mouth. Uh-oh! While I liked the idea of Jesus hanging around a bit longer, I would get very upset. What if He got stuck there, like permanently? I would take my tongue and try to move Him around – gently and reverently of course – but what if I hurt him? I mean, did I not already hurt him enough with my 7 year old sinning? (And remember – I had a pleasant Catholic upbringing, this was from the not-hellfire-damnantion crowd!)

So much for reverence and holiness, the score so far:

  • Fran’s self-focus – 10, Jesus the Lord – 0.

Oh it makes my head spin to consider it all!

Here we are today and on this great feast, one in which we celebrate the very centrality of our Catholic Christian faith, and one in which I pray we can find one thing to agree on… We truly believe that Christ is presence in the bread and wine that we consume.

Can we please start there and maybe stay there?

OK, good… let’s see where that leads us. We agree that Christ is present to us in the bread and wine, Christ’s Body, Christ’s Blood.

We do not come to the table to have a linear experience of “Jesus ‘n me.” It is not about getting another bite that will allow us, if we are really good boys and girls, to stay out of hell for the next few days. Oh my gosh – what bad theology is that?

We do not come to the table to get a fix! We come to the table to be One in Christ.

We come to the table to not simply receive, but to give. It is Christ’s sacrifice for us but also our sacrifice for him. No, I’m not talking about some hand-wringing-I-suffer-for-Jesus personal piety, but rather the sacrifice of self-gift. Self-gift meaning, here I am Lord, I am broken for you and your people as you were broken for us. I am poured out for you and your people Jesus, as you poured yourself out for us.

And in this act of giving, rather than just receiving, to use the Doxology, “through Him, with Him, in Him,” we become One! One. One. One. Catholic. Universal. Unity. Communion. Common union. One. One. One.

If we could but start there and stay there, just rest awhile in that spot… No more fighting, just for a minute, OK?

Then we might remember that we are there to be transformed… not unlike the painting of the Last Supper. Renewed, revived. And when that happens we are given something and we can then give more to the world. Be transformed, transform the world! It is the dynamism of the Eucharist and what could be more exciting and more uniting than that?

I hope that we don’t continue to argue about whether to kneel or stand, whether to take communion in the hand or on the tongue, whether one is “worthy” to come to the altar or not. Aren’t we all unworthy, don’t we say that in one voice, “Lord,I am not worthy…” None of us are worthy, yet we are invited to the table, over and over again.

We are given the chance anew to be one each and every day. Let us look to this day in which we commemorate the Body of Christ by actually being the Body of Christ. Let us re-member Christ today and not dismember Christ today. Let us do that each day, every day and for always and forever, in the name of Christ who is our Lord.

Amen and amen and amen.

  • A homily from Pope Benedict the XVI on this feast in 2008 is here.
  • Deacon Greg Kandra’s fine homily from today is here.
  • It is not on the internet but Fr. Pat offered a fine homily which he refers to the restoration of the Michaelangelo’s Last Supper. What a fine metaphor for us all…. as the painting got cleaned and restored, it became clearer. Just like the Eucharist does for us, as we grow to be one in Christ.

Trinity Sunday – A Study in Relationship

Look at that image for a moment if you will. The Father is not the Son. The Father is not the Spirit. The Son is not the Father. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is neither Father nor Son.

All are God. Each one is God. It bears repeating… All are God. Each one is God. And yet God is one!

Even for those of us who believe in this One God of Three Persons, there is a good deal of mind bending that can go on if we try to understand the Trinity in our Western-Culture-Meets-Left-Brain manner. This manner often includes seeing “three persons” as we imagine persons – God as white haired, bearded and maybe slightly scary old man, Jesus as either Western European handsome or bleeding and wounded and finally the Holy Spirit as a dove or maybe a lick of flame.

None of that really breaks through to make the Trinity manifest as our God who is so present in ways that we struggle to recognize and respond to in our lives.

None of that really breaks through to make the Trinity manifest as our God who is so present in ways that we struggle to recognize and respond to in our lives.

When we use the word mystery in relation to the Trinity it can act as a polite excuse… “Oh, the Trinity! “ (ahem, clears throat) “That! It is a mystery!” And with such, we are potentially absolved from getting a headache trying to put the triangular trinity peg into a round left-brain hole!

Thus ends so much study of the Trinity and that is very sad. At the heart of the Trinity is a constant self-revelation of God and relationship, community. These are not abstract concepts but something very real and something we must be in relationship with in order to respond, participate and cooperate with God.

We can’t use mystery as a manner of abandoning our place in the relationship with a God that is relationship. If it is mystery, then we must enter into that mystery, not abandon it.

Let’s refocus… How do you imagine God in relationship with you?

“God’s To-Be is To-Be in relationship, and God’s being-in-relationship-to-us is what God is.” Catherine Mowry LaCugna, from her book, God For Us

Think about that for a moment… “God’s being-in-relationship-to-us is what God is.’ God’s being in relationship is what God is. This makes the old-bearded-white-haired-man seem less likely to me. In fact this brings to mind images of relationship from the Song of Songs:

“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm:
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the netherworld is devotion,
Its flames are a blazing fire.”

This is no longer God looking down at me, but rather the God of relationship, all three-in-one of God, staring at me, calling me into relationship in a most intimate and passionate way.

And it is a little bit uncomfortable!

So yes, this is mystery, but it is mystery as invitation and welcome, not mystery as an impediment of understanding, or mystery as confusion.

God – as Trinity, God – as invitation, God – as Love… in three persons. If a symbol is what it does and if the etymology of the word symbol is a combination of “token or mark” and “to throw” we can understand little else other than something real has been thrown at us. It has also pursued us in endless relationship.

This Trinity-relationship also negates individualism – which is probably one of, if not the greatest challenge to Trinitarian understanding and engagement in our culture. Our most basic national values are based on a kind of individualism that is antithetical to this God of Trinitarian relationship.

We are often so focused on our own relationship with God, that it can be easy to forget or ignore that our relationship with God is completely dependent on our relationships with others.

The model for understanding this in some way is to pray, to study and to simply be with the Trinity, God, Father and Son in ever present and constant motion and engagement with one another.