May 28, 2016
Tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) and I will be preaching. I have given the homily on this same feast day twice in the last three years. Yesterday I shared the homily I delivered in June of 2013. The following is the Corpus Christi homily I delivered last year at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
During my freshmen year of college, it was announced that Billy Joel would be coming to campus to perform. For those who are not familiar with Billy Joel, he is, in my humble opinion, the greatest musical artist of all time.
I was, and obviously still am, a big Billy Joel fan, so there was no doubt that I was going to do whatever it took to get tickets.
The promoters announced that tickets would go on sale beginning at 10:00 a.m. the following Tuesday. We were told that students would be allowed to line up to buy tickets beginning at 12:00 noon on Monday. I was at the arena, with my lawn chair, at 12:00 noon on that Monday. I am happy to report I was the eleventh person in line.
In order to execute this 22-hour vigil, I needed to miss two classes on Monday afternoon and another on Tuesday morning. As an educator, I am not condoning my behavior, but it was, after all, Billy Joel. This type of decision-making may explain why it took me 5-1/2 years to get my 4-year degree.
Missing classes and sleeping in a lawn chair were worth it. I would have done anything to get front row tickets to see Billy Joel.
Who is your Billy Joel? What musical group, top athlete, movie star, or mega-celebrity causes your heart to race with excitement? Who would you stand in line for hours to see? Or fight for a front row seat?
Maybe for you it’s Pope Francis. We have seen pictures that show hundreds of thousands of people packing the streets just to get a glimpse of the Pope.
We all love Fr. Jim and Fr. John, but what if we announced that Pope Francis would be here to celebrate Mass at St. Pius X next weekend? People would start lining up immediately. At that Mass, the front rows would be taken first. We might even have to hire security to keep order.
Fr. Jim – we could even charge admission and close that parish financial gap you’ve been talking about.
What does all of this have to do with our celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)? It points out the irony of the situation.
The biggest mega-celebrity of all-time, Jesus Christ Himself, is present in the Eucharist at every Mass we celebrate. He is truly present. The Real Presence of Christ, in our midst each time we celebrate Mass. Why are there no lines to get in?
The community brings forward the gifts of bread and wine. Moments later, the priest offers the words of consecration, and transubstantiation takes place.
What is transubstantiation? In the act of consecration during the Eucharistic prayer, the “substance” of the bread and wine is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, while the appearance and taste of the bread and wine remain the same.
The bread ceases to be bread, and becomes the Body of Christ, while the wine ceases to be wine, and becomes the Blood of Christ.
The Institution of the Eucharist, the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper, comes to life in today’s Gospel: “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them. He said to them, ‘This is my blood…’”
The Real Presence of Christ, in our midst each time we celebrate Mass. A miracle takes place at every Mass, yet there is no fanfare. There are no long lines to get into church. There are no fights for front row seats.
Why is that? Because many Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence, and most of us have doubts.
The Catholic Church is rich in symbols. A server processes in with a crucifix. It symbolizes Jesus sacrificing His life for us by His death on the cross. It’s not really Jesus on that cross. It is a symbol.
We have the risen Christ hanging in the front of the church. It symbolizes the hope of the resurrection. It is not really the risen Christ. It is a symbol.
Candles, statues, icons – all symbols. The Eucharist is not a symbol. It is the Real Presence of Christ. It is difficult to wrap our minds around that concept, so we doubt.
Here is something to keep in mind: When it comes to our faith, doubt is acceptable.
Comprehending concepts such as Real Presence, the Trinity, heaven, or even God’s unfailing love for us, can be a monumental task. That is why the Church uses the word mystery, to refer to something that escapes the full comprehension of the human mind. Isn’t that the essence of faith? Belief in something we cannot fully understand? Something we cannot explain or prove empirically?
Doubt is OK. It is a very human response. The key is in how we address our doubt. The easy path is to simply reject what we don’t understand. I don’t understand it; I can’t explain it; I can’t prove it, so I reject it. Therefore, I reject the Church. That is the path chosen by so many who have left the Church.
Here’s another option: Why not put our doubt to work? What if our doubt led us to dig deeper, to ask questions, to explore the teachings of the Church? What if we totally immersed ourselves in the miracle of the Mass? What if we spent time praying about those things we do not fully comprehend? We could also pray for the courage to trust, to accept that there are things bigger than ourselves that we will never truly understand.
In Matthew’s Gospel last weekend, the risen Christ appeared to the eleven apostles in Galilee. The Gospel read: “When the disciples saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted.” The men chosen by Jesus to build the Church doubted. But it is important to note that while experiencing doubt, they worshipped.
Permission to doubt has been granted to us. However, the call to worship remains. We worship not in spite of our doubt, but in harmony with it.
Prepare yourselves – the Real Presence of Christ will soon be in our midst. Get in line and fight for that front row seat, then put your doubt to work.