May 26, 2019

Corpus Christi Leads Us to Eternity

In your imagination I’d like you to take you with me back to an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem. It’s nighttime and there is a tense, ominous silence in the dark streets. Covering it all is the looming shadow of the Roman Emperor, the overwhelming presence of the military force of Rome’s legions, the dark despotism of Rome’s enforced peace, along with Rome’s worship of brute force and dominative power. Violence could erupt anywhere at any time. Trapped men might lash-out in frustration and bitterness at any moment. The grinding intersection between dominative power and man’s legitimate desire for freedom was wearing thin. It was in this context that Jesus Christ at the Last Supper met with His twelve disciples to freely hand over to them His very self in the form of His Body and Blood, both of which were about to be sacrificed to the Roman gods of dominative power.

How many would claim that what Jesus was doing was relevant to the situation that was surrounding Him? Moreover, how many would say that what we are doing here in this hour on this Sunday is relevant to the situation in the world outside that surrounds us? The questions are connected. By being here we are re-entering that same upper room to share in that same Lord’s Supper in contexts that are 2,000 years apart but very much the same.

Outside is a world of political corruption, of lies and deceit, of military and civil violence, a world wherein trapped men and women can lash-out anywhere at any time in order to try to be free of the dominative powers that hover over us. It is a world in which a powerful few control the lives and destinies of the many, a world in which a wealthy few live at the expense of the many who have relatively little wealth. The frustration flashes out at us in accounts of gangs of roving youngsters who try to control their neighborhoods, in instances where the elderly are mugged, beaten nearly to death, and robbed of a few pitiable dollars. In that same world many government officials seem more interested in the acquisition of greater personal power and little interested in giving citizens protection from the violence that surrounds and traps them. In other words, the parallels between what is pursued in our own culture and what was pursued in the Roman culture of Christ’s time are uncomfortably similar. Pagan Rome and secular America are the contexts that surround the Lord’s Supper both then and now.

And so it is that the greatest need of the twelve disciples and our greatest need also is to find the strength to out-live, out-love, and thereby transform the world that surrounds us. And this is precisely what Jesus is doing in both contexts back then and now.

There is great power in a person who does God’s will, who lives in God’s love, and who follows a divine logic which is different from the logic of this world. There is great power in one who lives in honesty and truth, who lives in the innocence of a clean conscience, and who gives himself over in the strength of self-sacrificial love for others. The broken body of Christ and His poured out blood become the sources of that sort of power, a strength that is able to transcend the world’s, a power that drains the use of dominative power rendering it weak and impotent. That is the relevance of being here today, during this hour each Sunday. We are here, as were the twelve apostles, to receive a power that integrates us into God’s power and that allows us to go through a door that frees us from the prison of this world’s lust for power that only manipulate, dominate, crush, devour, and destroy. Love, however, is irresistible.

Secondly we are here to judge the world. In Jesus Christ God has judged our world. He has shown us the relative value of things. His judgment shows us what things are better than others. And when we find Jesus kneeling with a towel around His waist washing the feet of His disciples, and when we encounter Jesus coming to us in mere bread and a few drops of common wine, handing Himself over to us in utter simplicity and humility in His quiet invitation of love rather than in the domination of brute power, then we see that we and our world are judged. Pride is judged. Acquisitiveness is judged. Dominative and manipulative power is judged. Control of others is judged. Domineering selfishness is judged. Lying conniving officials in government, in business, and in labor unions are all judged.

When we participate in the Lord’s Supper we are acting as witnesses. Over and against the standards of this world we proclaim something by our sharing together in this hour. St. Paul tells us: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again in glory.” The celebration of Holy Mass set in the midst of the course of ordinary human events stands as a judgment. It is a measuring ruler whereby we judge the relative value of things, whereby this world’s values are measured against God’s, and whereby we declare that the Cross is planted in the center of our universe and that it penetrates down through all of the levels of our political, social, and economic lives to the very core of what it means to be a human being who is endowed by our Creator with certain rights that cannot even be given away, namely freedom, pursuit of truth, and pursuit of God. In such a light many things that men and women do each week, particularly those who have and use dominative power, are revealed to be shabby, pitifully mean, and even demonic. To say it in another summary way, our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a very relevant act because it is a judgment that saves us even as it searches and condemns the hearts and the consciences of all men and women.

Finally, this hour is very relevant to all of the hours of each week because it frees us from what is the prison of time and allows us to walk through a time door that leads us into eternity. All around us people (and many of us along with them) are in a mad pursuit of what is merely passing. We do everything we can to save time… only to be able to waste it. This leads many into a pervading sort of cynicism and frustration that makes people question whether there is anything at all that can be called eternity.

The Roman culture that surrounded Christ, with its crushing power, its corrupt va1ues, and its lust for what is merely temporal, produced cynical citizens. On many of the gravestones of Romans back then was found the following inscription: NON FUI, FUI, NON SUM, NON CURO. “I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care.” What could be a more hopeless, a more cynical, and a more empty way to bury your wife, your child, or your husband? What could be a better inscription over the graves of trapped and victimized people than to say: “I was not, I was, I am not, and I do not care!” Would anyone claim this is an expression of strength or of power? No, of course not. It is the expression of surrender to despair, the expression of a soul that has been seduced and raped by the values of a culture that views religion and Christ as irrelevant.

This is the Feast of Corpus Christi and each celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy is another moment which allows us to enter the Upper Room and share once again in our everlasting Lord’s Supper and His one sacrifice that is the Last Supper because it is still going on and there will not be another. Each Mass is a highly relevant hour in all of the hours of each week. Each Mass is an event in which we receive power, in which we find judgment, and in which we touch the eternal. What could be more relevant than that? Corpus Christi is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed. The Upper Room, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Mass is a place in which we unlock the secrets of spiritual power, of human dignity and freedom, of true values, of eternal hope, and the secret of walking through life with our heads held high, filled with strength, with purpose for living and reason for dying. May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring you, and bring me with you, into His kingdom and into everlasting life. [Feast of Corpus Christi- A]

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Written by
Fr Charles Irvin

REVEREND CHARLES IRVIN, or "Father Charlie," as he is known, was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 6, 1933. He was raised and educated there, graduating from the University of Michigan's Law School. After a brief career as an attorney he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1967. Shortly thereafter he began an eleven-year ministry at St. Mary's Student Chapel in Ann Arbor. A rich variety of ministries followed including appointments to many advisory positions in the Church and three other pastorates. In the early 1970s he began writing columns for several Catholic newspapers in Michigan. In 1999 he was appointed founding editor of Faith magazine, published by the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. Today, the magazine serves seven dioceses.

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Written by Fr Charles Irvin