A reflection in anticipation of Corpus Christi

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(This is a homily I preached several years ago.  I thought it might be helpful in preparing to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi this weekend.  I especially wanted an opportunity to share with you (below) what St. Augustine had to say about the Eucharist.)

“You are what you eat.”

At least that’s what people say.

In fact, they’ve been saying that since 1826 when a Frenchman,
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, wrote,
"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."
Dis-moi ce que tu manges et je te dirai ce que tu es.
(Everything always sounds better in French!)

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
celebrates the sacramental reality of Christ’s presence
in the gifts of bread and wine we offer every time we celebrate Mass,
- what we eat and drink when we celebrate the Eucharist.

What does the spiritual food we share at Mass 
tell us about who we are?

Christ is present at Mass in several ways in the liturgy.
He’s present in our very gathering, our coming together to pray.
He himself told us,
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.” 
(Matthew 18:20)

He is also “present in the Word, 
since it is the Lord himself who speaks
when the scriptures are read in the Church.”

(CSL no. 7)

And most important of all,
he is present in the sacramental supper of this table
where we are nourished by the sacrifice he offered
on the altar of the Cross.
Christ, present, truly, in the bread and cup of the Eucharist…

But what do we mean when we say that?

Back in the 4th century, people asked the same question
and St. Augustine gave them this answer:

What you see is the bread and the chalice;
that is what your own eyes report to you.
But what your faith obliges you to accept
is that
the bread is the Body of Christ

and the chalice the Blood of Christ...
How is the bread his Body?

And that which is in the chalice - how is it his Blood?
Those elements, brothers and sisters, are called sacraments,

because in them one thing is seen, 

but another is understood.
What is seen is the corporeal species

but what is understood is the spiritual fruit...
You yourselves are the Body of Christ and his members.

If you are the Body of Christ and his members,

it is your own mystery that is presented 

at the table of the Lord,
you receive your mystery.

To that which you are -- you answer: "Amen..."
For you hear: "The Body of Christ!" and you answer: "Amen!"

You hear: "The Blood of Christ!" and you answer: "Amen!"

Be a member of Christ's Body, then,

so that your "Amen" may be the truth.

In St. Augustine’s effort to help us understand the comfort that is ours
in believing that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist,
there comes also a challenge,
to believe not only that the bread and wine become
the body and blood of Christ,
but to believe also that, indeed, we are to become
what we eat and drink:
we are to become the true presence of Christ
breaking ourselves like bread to nourish our neighbor;
pouring ourselves out like wine in outreach to those in need.

Like a coin, a host as two sides:
we receive a mystery that we already are and are challenged to become.
We receive our own mystery which is the mystery of Christ.

And like a glass, a chalice may be half empty or half full:
and we are called to empty ourselves out for one another
so that we might know the fullness of God’s grace within us.

We are what we eat and drink...

All of this in a morsel of bread, in a sip from a cup:
but this bread is the Bread of Life,
and this cup is the Cup of Salvation.

And that is why we approach the altar, the sacrament at Communion
with attentive reverence for what, for whom we are about to receive.

That is why we hold our hands prayerfully as we come forward,
and why we don’t greet others along the way
while coming to the altar.

That is why we return to our places after having received,
singing the Communion song,
giving thanks to God for such a gift.

That is why we would never think of receiving Communion
and then walking right out of church to beat the crowd:
it is never polite to eat and run,
and that is especially true at the Lord’s table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we remember that
“we are what we eat - and drink”
and our Supper here is a taste of the feast promised us in heaven.

Pray with me that with every celebration of the Eucharist
we will more deeply reverence the real presence of Christ
in the sacrament we receive
and become, more and more,
the mystery we receive,
the mystery we are,
the mystery of the Body of Christ.


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