This being the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, I suppose I should be speaking at length of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist: or of the mystery of transubstantiation, by which the elements of bread and wine change, by God’s grace, into his Flesh and Blood. I fervently believe these things, and promise I will address them. For the moment, however, I face the heartbreaking, indeed unprecedented, situation in which I may not distribute communion to the People of God. And so, I’d like to consider with you the mystery of Christ’s Body, but from another perspective, that is, the mystery of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. That is how Pope Pius XII referred to the People of God in his encyclical 77 years ago this month. In it we hear the echo of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that “by participation in the body of Christ…we who are many are one.” The beautiful sequence by St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “Thousands are, as one, receivers, one, as thousands of believers, eats of him who cannot waste.” And the Gospel tells us Jesus is the source of life for those who feed on his Body. In the Church, therefore, we see the mystery of the whole Christ, God and man. The paradox of the sacraments is that we behold the divine presence—which is invisible—in the human, which is visible. Pope Pius reminds us that at the moment of Mary’s free submission to God’s will, there came about a “marriage” between divinity and humanity. As Catholics, we must believe that God’s grace has a real, transforming effect within us, and leads us to union with him and with our neighbor. Still, as we are creatures of time and space, the effect of grace on the mind and heart is not instantaneous. God does not violate the natural law of which he himself is the author. The natural law, not to mention the eternal law, recognizes the processes of growth, development, nourishment, and healing, whereby God’s children come to attain the perfection of holiness. Two things we must keep in mind: first, try as we may, we will never attain that perfection this side of eternity. Second, we only find the presence of God by looking beyond appearances, going below the surface to find that invisible, divine reality.
As your pastor, I recognize, and share, your frustration at not being able to receive Holy Communion in a time of infirmity and injustice. But I do you no service if I adopt, as many religious figures have, secular political categories, like power, privilege, and preference, to frame the discussion. I refuse to allow others to set the terms of dialogue. Let us use the language and wisdom of the Scriptures. The first reading reminds us: “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Ask yourselves, throughout the present turmoil when, if at all, does the word of God enter the discussion? The Evil One divides us by setting up mutually exclusive camps, demanding absolute perfection from others, humiliation and dominance over others, empty gestures, and silly slogans.
My favorite “spiritual writer,” whom I quoted last week, is Flannery O’Connor. In her essay, “The Sins of the Church,” she argues that an adolescent view of the world demands “the kingdom of heaven on earth right here, right now.” The adult, on the other hand, is far more patient and realistic. As she says, a mature person “knows the consequences of sin, (and) knows how deep you have to go to find love.”
Does not our Lord turn our lives upside down when he says, “Love your enemies; pray for your persecutors”? Of the Church, O’Connor says: “You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it…To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life, and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. Charity is hard and endures…” Let me emphasize: love, we Catholics know, is not a feeling; it is an act of the will. At a moment like ours, it is difficult, even impossible, to love as God would have us love. Why? Because it demands that people calm down, show mutual respect, act upon the Commandments and Beatitudes, and keep in mind that there is a constant struggle throughout human life to cooperate with the grace of God. Whatever course of action human beings adopt, it will always…always…fall short. We must constantly reevaluate our values and actions in light of the Gospel challenge.
And so today we revere the Body of Christ in its Mystical Reality, the Church. The good news today is that the Church, once again, has become a visible presence, here at home, in our nation, and throughout the world. By receiving the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ more and more. Let us start by turning our minds and hearts to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. St. Thomas tells us of the sacrament: “Sight has failed, nor thought conceives, but a dauntless faith believes, resting on a power divine.” From first to last, Christians look beyond appearances to find the hand of God at work. So let us put ourselves in his hands, and be instruments of his peace in our world today.