June 19, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) on June 18, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; and John 6:51-58.
This is our second weekend back in Ordinary Time after the Easter season. The Church’s use of the word “ordinary” comes from the idea that these are the counted, or “ordered” weeks of the year. Yet, many of us struggle with that word, “ordinary.” It even bothered someone as saintly as Dorothy Day. She famously wrote, “The words ‘Ordinary Time’ in our prayer books put me in a state of confusion and irritation. To me, no time is ordinary.”
Today, in this so-called ordinary time, we celebrate the central mystery of the Catholic Mass: the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, more often referred to by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. Let us begin our celebration by taking a moment to remember that God showers his mercy on us at every moment of our lives!
The defining moment of the Jewish religion is the Exodus event. God commands Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea to freedom, and then God gives Moses the Law for the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. This extraordinary event demonstrated to the Jewish people, once and for all, that they were the chosen people of God. And yet the Bible tells us that the Israelites were so quickly dissatisfied with what God had done for them. God provides manna to the people in the desert for 40 years. It was sweet, tasting like wafers with honey. Yet, day after day, year after year, gathering this bread-like substance, grinding it or pounding it into cakes, it became hard for the Israelites to always remember that the manna was a miracle, not a drudgery.
I have had some extraordinary prayer experiences in my life – when I have connected with God and had moments of true revelation and transformation – but those experiences are few and far between. A lot of people think that they’re not praying right if their prayer becomes a drudgery. They think that every experience of prayer is supposed to be revelatory and transformative. But the saints – and some of my most spiritual friends – have taught me that this is not the case. As my friend Cathy puts it, “Prayer is a discipline.” It’s like exercise. You show up every day, at the same time of day, whether or not you feel like it, and try your best to place yourself in the presence of God. There is only one way that we can mess up prayer: and that’s to try to evaluate how well we’re praying. When we start evaluating our prayer, we’re no longer praying.
As a priest, my faith has been strengthened by other people’s experience of the Eucharist. I have witnessed tears roll down the faces of college students as they realize that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is somehow, inexplicably, present in the bread and wine of the Mass and inside the monstrance during Eucharistic adoration. But even after these moments of intimacy with God, many of these same students will experience periods of dryness and doubt. As the disciples struggle to comprehend what Jesus says to them about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, Jesus invites them to stay in dialogue with God. Only the Father can help the disciples to understand. And it’s the same for us: on those days when we struggle to believe that this ordinary bread and ordinary wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, it’s OK. We simply pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
The gifts we bring forward in the middle of the Mass are intentionally chosen because they are so ordinary. Wheat and grapes are staple crops in the Holy Land and much of the world. When we bring them forward at Mass, they are supposed to represent us: our joys and hopes, our fears and sorrows. All that we have is all that we offer. As St. Augustine said, we can each think of ourselves as individual grains or individual grapes. The grains and grapes are plucked, crushed, combined, and transformed by chemical processes that cannot be undone. Thus all of us together become one bread and one cup.
And then, somehow, by a mystery beyond our comprehension, we – the one bread and the one cup, our joys and hopes, our fears and sorrows, all that we have, all that we offer – we are transformed again, into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Yes! Let us remember on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, it is not just about bread and wine being transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ before our eyes, it is also WE who are being transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ in the very core of our being! Mass is not a spectator sport!
I first recognized that God was calling me to consider the priesthood in an extraordinary lightning-bolt moment when I was 27 years old. But in the years since, I’ve come to recognize that God had been whispering to me in the most seemingly ordinary ways for the previous 9 years, be it when I was freaking out at a music rehearsal, when I showed up for a church meeting, or when I visited my sister the week before I started my first engineering job.
Yet, each of these rather ordinary experiences made the lightning bolt moment possible in my life. God isn’t just in extraordinary things at extraordinary moments. God is present to us in the most ordinary ways: in the manna in the desert, in the seemingly dry times of our prayer, in the bread and wine at Mass, in the very depths of our being. Or, in the words that Augustine preached to the neophytes receiving the Eucharist for the first time: “Behold what you are, become what you receive.”