These days, during the COVID 19 pandemic, and the state of emergency that is now in existence in our province, many of us have gotten used to doing things “virtually.” We meet with people from work virtually, attend Bible studies and have virtual family celebrations. There is a certain ease to doing things virtually. There is no need to really show up for a virtual encounter. These kinds of meetings are convenient and don’t call for the same kind of commitment and sacrifice that really showing up for an event can require.
Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we celebrate that there is nothing virtual about God’s love. Jesus loves us unconditionally and He showed up to make clear to us the extent that He would go for each and every one of us. The Gospel reading from John, that we hear proclaimed on this Solemnity, captures the reality of Christ’s love as we hear Jesus state: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” This line points to the whole reality of Christ’s incarnation. I love the way Saint Paul expresses this reality of the incarnation in his Letter to the Philippians. He writes that Jesus, “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man” (Philippians 2:6-7). In the incarnation, Jesus left Heaven to take on our flesh and enter right into the reality of our earthly situation.
This reality of Christ’s incarnation and really becoming one of us is something that our Catholic Sacraments never loses sight of. Christ has left us the Sacraments so that through the power of the Holy Spirit, He might remain with us and continue to be really in our midst to strengthen and heal us. The Sacraments acknowledge the reality of Christ’s incarnation and His desire to continue to be present to us through the Church that He established so that His presence might continue for all people, throughout all times, until He comes again to judge the living and the dead.
The importance of the Sacraments became quite clear to me during my university days. Like many young adults who leave home for the first time, I stopped attending Mass. However, I quickly sensed an emptiness in my heart and joined a student Bible study with some others on campus. This Bible study focused only on the Word of God. It brought me comfort, but something was missing. I soon realized that if God only wanted us to have His word, He did not need to come down and dwell among us. If all God wanted to communicate to us was His Word, Jesus could have stayed up in Heaven and yelled down to us: “Hey down there, I love you and I’ll see you when you get here.”
No, God did not just want us to have His Word. He wanted us to have the real thing. Just like Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus is the real presence of God come down from heaven to be really present to each of us.
Think about what it is like when you love someone. When you really love someone, words fail. We want to show those that we love how much we care for them by being with them and sharing our lives with them. A person who simply says “I love you” and does not act lovingly is soon thought to be a fraud. Imagine how quickly you would walk away from friend who was always saying “I love you,” but never followed through with real action or presence when you really needed a friend. Love shows itself to be real when it takes on the flesh. In Jesus, the love of God has become real and takes on the flesh for each and every one of us.
At the Last Supper, Jesus, knowing that His time had come, and “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (Fourth Eucharistic Prayer) and instituted the Eucharist. Jesus, aware that He is about to offer His life as a sacrifice to forgive our sins, gave us the gift of His Holy Body and Blood in order that He might continue to be with us through His real presence. There is no ambiguity in the words that He uses as He leaves us this memorial of His passion. We recount these words each time we celebrate the Eucharist. They are simple but profoundly clear: “This is my body—This is my blood—Do this in memory of me.” Jesus, who came into the world so that He could really be with us, leaves us the gift of His real presence in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood so that He could continue to be really present to us until we are really with Him in Heaven. This is His gift to us to sustain us until we are really with Him in Heaven.
The Gospel reading which we hear today from chapter six of John’s Gospel is taken from what is known as the Bread of Life discourse. It is a powerful statement of the reality of the Eucharist and of the essential role of this Sacrament in Christ’s plan for our salvation. I have to confess that it was this passage that brought me back to Mass as I was meeting with my friends from the Bible study group during my initial days away from home at university. The words of today’s Gospel affirm so powerfully that Word and Sacrament go together. The Word of God prepares us to encounter Christ in the sacraments. Just as a real human being speaks words, these words must be connected to a body if they are to have meaning and become a reality. So too, God’s love for us becomes real in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. In the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, Christ shows us that His love for us today is real.
Jesus Himself makes this abundantly clear in His powerful words in today’s Gospel as He states: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56). There are few statements of Jesus that illustrate so clearly how real His love for us is and how we are to share in this love.
In the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood, God’s love for us is made present to us in the flesh, and in the here and now or our realities. Through the gift of the Eucharist, Christ desires to enter into our lives, to abide with us, and to be present within our realities. It is impossible to imagine a love so real and so powerful. Even those people who love us very much are not able to love us with the same reality that Christ loves us in the Eucharist. People who love us may stand next to us and near to us. In the Eucharist, Christ gives us His Body and Blood and enters into our hearts, souls and flesh. The Eucharist is the most real expression of God’s love that we will ever know until we stand in His presence in heaven.
It is because the Sacrament of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ really makes Him present that it is the source and summit of the Church’s life. When Christ ascended into heaven and sent from the Father the Holy Spirit upon the Church, He gave it the mission to continue His work on earth. The Church is able to make Christ present because its members are fed by His Body and Blood and configured into His likeness. We are reminded and called to be Church by the Eucharist and the presence of Christ that it gives to us. Paul reminds us that it is through the Eucharist that we are built up into the Church, the Body of Christ, as he writes in today’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Because there is one bread, we are many are one body, for we partake of the one bread.”
The adoration of the Eucharist is also another way that the Church celebrates that God’s love for us is real and unending. The Reserved Sacrament reminds all of us that Christ is always in our midst. Through the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, Christ is always available to be brought to those who are sick and dying. He never turns His back on us. The Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacles of our churches allows all to know that the Lord is with us throughout all of our trials and tribulations. In the year 1070, Archbishop Lanfranc, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, began the tradition of Eucharistic processions to remind people that Christ was present to them no matter where they were in the city. As Christ had walked the streets of Nazareth, so too, through the lives of the faithful, He continues to walk the streets of the cities of every age. The Blessed Sacrament is the gift that Christ has given to His Church in every age so that His love might be made real and present. God’s love is not just mere words. Jesus has taken on our flesh to redeem each one of us of the vivid reality of God’s love for us. The Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus reminds us that salvation is real and that Christ has come to be with us today in our own flesh and blood.
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us that Christ’s love for us is real. As we celebrate this great feast, we must also recall that ultimately our Church is called to be real and to celebrate the mysteries that Christ has given us as a memorial of His life, death and resurrection. The present situation might be calling us to virtual expressions of our faith, but we must not become satisfied with this. These are temporary measures in the face of an emergency situation. We must prepare and look forward to really gathering once again and truly being fed on the Body and Blood of Christ. It is this which really makes us Church.
This celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us of the love of God that is made real for us in the Eucharist. May it deepen our longing for the Eucharist and prepare our hearts for the efforts in the days to come that will be necessary to make our communities safe to gather again together. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ’s life for us so that we might enjoy eternal life. May our longing for this real love strengthen us for the real gestures of love that will be required for us to really be the Church—His Body—again soon.
On this Father’s Day weekend, I wish all of God blessings to my father Brain and to all fathers. Happy Father’s Day!
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Church—Toronto
This reflection is based on the readings for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood for Christ: Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; and John 6: 51-59.