|Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro|
June 2, 2002
Corpus Christi Sunday
Dt 8, 2-3, 14-16, 1 Cor 10, 16-17, Jn 6, 51-58
This weekend the church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ. One of the richest images in our Catholic tradition, the image of the Body of Christ, has many layers of meanings. This year’s lections focus on the images of bread and the feeding of hungry people. What does the image of bread as the Body of Christ mean today in a hungry world? More significantly what does it mean to us, who live in an over-fed nation in a hungry world? Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14b-16a, Not by bread alone: The fifth and last book of the Pentateuch, the five books of the Old Testament, is called Deuteronomy. It is a collection of the last speeches of Moses to the Israelites right before they and their forty-year sojourn in the desert. They are about to cross the Jordan River into the Holy Land.
In many ways freedom in the desert was much more difficult than slavery in Egypt. Freedom seeking involves life-taking risks. In their journey to freedom the Israelites made themselves vulnerable to the harsh realities of desert life. They literally did not know where their next meal was coming from. They had to rely solely on God to provide. And provide, God did, with water from rocks, my from quails, and bread through manna.
In this week’s select verses from chapter eight, Moses warns the Israelites not to forget all God had done for them, how he tested them in the desert and fed them manna. Regrettably the lectionary text omitted a couple of crucial verses from this section that are needed for the context of the text. It would be helpful to study verses 11 - 13 in which Moses says, "Be careful not to forget God by neglecting his commandments, less when you have eaten your fill, built fine houses, and increased your herds, your silver and gold and all your property, you then become haughty of heart." And verse 17 says, "Otherwise you might say to yourselves, it is my own power and strength of my own hand that has obtained for me this wealth." Lesson: Though physically poor and vulnerable in the desert, the Israelites were rich in faith and in their reliance on God. The forty years of wandering in the desert were the Jewish peoples’ formative nation-building years. It was during these years that they solidified the basic tenets of their faith, a faith that begins and ends with a complete dependence on God.
In chapter eight of Deuteronomy Moses raises the issue of what happens after the Israelites enter the Holy Land and become prosperous. Will the Israelites forget their need for God? What will prevent their possessions from possessing them, from putting faith in themselves and not in God? The spiritual concerns that Moses raises in Deuteronomy 8 are exactly the same spiritual concerns that plague Christians living in the United States of America. How we respond to those who are poor and hungry, both in our own country and in the world, will determine if the Eucharist we celebrate will be food for our souls or a judgment over our heads. 1 Corinthians 8:16-17: We though many, are one. Paul is writing to a small Christian community he helped establish in 51 a.d. Corinth was of the great cities of the ancient world. A thriving seaport, Corinth was a commercial crossroads for the Roman Empire. Its population was a melting pot of various pagan cults known for their moral depravity. The Christian community was primarily made up of Gentiles from the city’s poor and underprivileged classes. Paul addresses a series of concerns relating to moral behavior, communal life, and liturgical practices.
This week’s reading comes from the eighth chapter and deals with the issue of attending and eating food at pagan ritual meals. The Corinthian Christians understand that the pagan gods did not exist. They were attending these pagan ritual meals mostly for the food and social company. In this reading Paul is trying to impress on the Corinthians that even though these pagan gods did not exist, attending and participating in their rituals meant that they were affirming these pagan gods and the believers of those rituals. In verses sixteen and seventeen of this week’s text, Paul uses the Eucharist to make his point. If to take the blessed cup at the Eucharist is to partake in Christ’s blood and to take the blessed bread is to partake in Christ’s body, and all who partake, many as they are, partake in the one body of Christ. Then isn’t it also true, according to Paul’s reasoning, to take the ritualized foods at pagan rituals is to partake in pagan religion? Every human action has a personal and communal dimension. Lesson: Paul is saying something very profound in this weekend’s text from First Corinthians. Every human action, be it social, political, economical, or religious, has a personal and communal dimension. This principle has much to contribute to our understanding of the Eucharist, the Body of Christ and to how we live our lives.
For the Corinthians their participation in pagan rituals meant more than their getting something to eat and maintaining social connections. Despite their personal disbelief, their actions spoke louder than their personal beliefs. In other words, you are what you do.
This is especially true in the USA where words are cheap. We can say whatever we want, believe whatever we please, and it is protected under the Constitution. When it comes to the practice of Christianity in the USA, a lot of people profess belief, but how many actually live the faith?
In this week’s reading when Paul asks whether the blessed bread shared at the Eucharist was not also a participation in the body of Christ, the body of Christ to which he was referring was much more than the real presence of Christ’s body in the blessed bread. He meant a much larger, more inclusive understanding of the body of Christ that involves the whole person, their way of life, all that they say and do both inside and outside the church. John 6:51-58: The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world: Unlike the three other gospels, on Holy Thursday night in John’s gospel there no institution of the Eucharist, no blessings of bread and wine, no words of consecration. Instead, John has Jesus do his foot-washing ritual, a clear indicator that being Eucharist is about being servant. However, John does address Eucharistic concerns in his sixth chapter.
John’s gospel is called the gospel of signs. Each sign points to a deeper understanding of what faith in Jesus is all about. These signs are often followed by an extended discourse that helps to explain the important aspects of the faith.
In John’s sixth chapter, his Eucharistic chapter, the sign that leads to an extended discussion about the Eucharist is the feeding of the five thousand. This discussion does something similar to what John did with his discussion of the washing of the feet. He ties our understanding of the Eucharist with meeting the real, everyday concerns of hungry people. Though not identical, no more than service is identical to the sacrament of the Eucharist, feeding hungry people comes from and leads to any true celebration and understanding of the Eucharist.
The following day, after feeding the five thousand, the crowd seeks Jesus out. They want to be fed again. A discourse on the bread of life takes place. This week’s gospel comes at the end of the discourse. It specifically addresses the Eucharist in the most concrete of language. It speaks of the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine at Eucharist. The audience which Jesus is addressing in this discussion shifts. The shift takes place in today’s text, between verses 51 and 52. John’s first audience is the hungry crowd. The second audience is the Jewish authorities.
In verse 51, the key verse in this week’s reading, Jesus says he is the living bread and that anyone who eats this bread will live forever because this bread is his flesh given for the life of the world. In verses 52-58 the Jewish authorities hear cannibalism in Jesus’ words when Jesus is actually talking conspiracy. The issue is not whether a person is willing to eat a part of Jesus’ physical, fleshy body as cannibals do, but whether we who say we believe in Jesus are willing to consume the whole person of Jesus, body and blood, heart and spirit, in a conspiracy of love: a love unto death, a death to eternal life as Jesus showed us. Lesson: You are what you eat. Pollsters tell us that many Catholics are unsure about the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. I’m not sure what to make of that. If it means Catholics no longer know the difference between transubstantiation and transignification or that they no longer possess a precise theological language to describe the real presence of Jesus in the elements of blessed bread and wine, then maybe that’s no great loss. The concept of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not a simple thing. There are lots of ways to look at it with many layers of meaning. It should be discussed, explored, and wrestled with. The Eucharist as the body of Christ is one of the richest symbols we have in our Catholic tradition. Absence makes the heard grow fonder: One of the things I miss the most about being in jail is celebrating the Eucharist. Writing these weekly lectionary reflections help to substitute for my love for preaching the scriptures, but nothing can substitute for celebration of the Eucharist. Here at CCA Leavenworth, I get to receive Communion twice a week, once on Saturdays at a regular Catholic Communion service and once a week through a clergy visit during the weekdays. A big thank you goes out to Fr. Pat Tobin and Deacon Tim McEvoy for generously visiting me weekly and bringing me Communion. They have been great support for me here.
They have a policy here at CCA Leavenworth to strip search any inmate who has an attorney or clergy visit, coming and going. Taking my clothes off, standing naked before a prison guard, showing the bottoms of my feet, lifting my testicles, bending over and spreading my buttocks, both going to and coming from Holy Communion gives me a whole new appreciation of bodily things, both sacred and profane.