Homily for the feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord (Corpus Christi) year C 2013)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). In the thirteenth century there were two significant events that motivated the institution of this feast. First there was a debate about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so this was established to respond to the debate. Second there was an upsurge in Eucharistic piety (e.g. St Thomas on Eucharistic Adoration, songs like Panis Angelicus, etc.), so this was to serve as a result of this pious devotion to the Blessed Eucharist.
Over the years the Catholic Church taught that Christ is really present (not only symbolically) in the Eucharist. Everytime we receive communion we are receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord though we receive him under the element of unleavened bread and wine. Today’s celebration is to reinforce our belief that He is truly present in the Eucharist.
During the World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, I happened to be in a conference about the Eucharistic Miracles (i.e. stories about the Eucharistic bread or host turning into real flesh with blood). The talk was about the Eucharistic miracle happening in Argentina in 1996.
The story was that in August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet had just finished saying Mass at a Catholic church in the commercial center of Buenos Aires, when a woman came up to tell him that she had found a discarded host on a candleholder at the back of the church. On going to the spot indicated, Fr. Alejandro saw the defiled Host. Since he was unable to consume it, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. On Monday, August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis), who gave instructions that the Host be professionally photographed. For several years the Host remained in the tabernacle, the whole affair being kept a strict secret. Since the Host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio decided to have it scientifically analyzed. On October 5, 1999, in the presence of the Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to prejudice the study, he purposely did not inform the team of scientists of its provenance. One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, the well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart.It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.” Dr. Zugiba’s was at a loss to account for this fact. There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated. Only then did Mike Willesee (Australian Journalist) inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated Host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science—a mystery totally beyond her competence.” Fr. M. Piotrowski SChr
Friends, dear brothers and sisters, stories like this always affirms my love of the priesthood. It always moves me to realize how God loves us so much by becoming so little for our sake. To fulfil his promise of being with us always he chose to be contained in that little host (unleavened bread) to become food for our souls. I tell you that the Eucharist formed the main motivation for me to become a priest. So if you have noticed I always take time to elevate that consecrated Host, because it is always a wonderful moment for me to have that experience of a real meeting between human and divine when my human hands is touching the divine. I always tell myself: Wow! What an opportunity to be holding in my human hands the God who is my Creator, my Saviour and my Lord. That’s why I have decided at the beginning of my ministry here in this parish to have all weekday masses in the morning, because I just loved to start my day by celebrating the Eucharist.
“The Eucharist is the summit of our Christian life”, the Second Vatican Council taught us. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia reflects on this even further. The Pope wrote: “The Eucharist, as Christ’s saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history.” Jesus has left us this before his death to be done in memorial of him, to remind us that God loved us so much that he couldn’t just leave us with a symbol of himself, but really his own self- his own body and blood to be our nourishment in our journey towards the kingdom of God his Father.
We partake communion quite regularly now. The Church has given us this opportunity by modifying the traditional form of fasting after midnight to one hour before communion. We who are here today have all this opportunities to receive him in communion. So as the saying goes, ‘We are what we eat?’ have we become Eucharistic people? If we are taking Christ in our life every Sunday or everyday even for some, has Christ truly become alive and working in us?
To answer this, we need to go back to the gospel read today. The disciples asked Jesus to send the people off to find food and take rest. Jesus however told the disciples to ‘Give them something to eat yourselves,’ which means to use whatever resources and capacities they have to feed the people around us who are hungry. To be Eucharistic people is to ponder and to eventually imitate the selflessness of that little boy who (though unnamed, unrecognized, and unacknowledged) generously gave his five loaves and two fish to Jesus, to be blessed, be broken and be shared by all who need it. The boy could have sold his loaves for a couple of bucks but he didn’t. He just gave it away to Jesus and in turn he has become a witness of a great miracle recorded in the gospels- the multiplication of the loaves. To become Eucharistic people therefore is to be like Christ in the way we treat others, to be the instrument of God’s love, care and compassion to the needy and vulnerable, to be the concrete and living testament of the Spirit of God to counteract the many different spirits (violence, injustice, materialism, atheism, etc), that try to drive us away from our real source and real God. To become Eucharistic people is to listen to Jesus everytime we receive him in the Eucharist telling us: Don’t just search for the blessings you get from the Eucharist, but seek for me, and bring me to others.
So as we continue our celebration of the Corpus Christi today, let us thank God for the gift of the Eucharist. Let us thank God for his continuing and real presence among us. At the same time let us also make this as our resolution that we, in our own little ways become a truly Eucharistic people by the way we live, by the way we act and by the way we live out our Christian vocation and responsibilities in the world. Amen.