We should approach our readings for The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ with trepidation and a profound sense of trust in our loving God who has made Himself incredibly accessible to us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. We need this trust in order to allow Him to remove the thick layer of our limited and biased belief and replace it with an openness that will transform us from within. In this sacred place we are offered again the opportunity to secure more and more our dwelling in the Holy Trinity itself.
Since we are dealing with the very core of our Catholic faith, please, let me be blunt in my delivery. Unlike the Jews of old, we do not have any problem with believing that, after the priest speaks Jesus’ words of consecration, what looks and tastes like bread is actually the flesh of Christ, and that the cup holds His very blood. Yet the problem that some, or even many of us, still have is with discerning the Body of Christ. Right away you might object: “Wait a minute, Father, you just confirmed our belief that on this altar, after the words of consecration, and for as long as the exterior signs of bread and wine are visible, we are before the Body and Blood of Christ.”
YES! Of course, but I am referring to the following ominous sentence from Paul to the Corinthian Community: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Cor. 11:29
Inspired by God, Paul urges us to recognize the Body of Christ lest we be guilty of hurting Christ’s Body. There is a substantial difference between burning an important person in effigy and burning his/her real body. The first is an insult; the second is murder. Those who do not discern the Body of Christ are guilty of murder.
Still not clear? Look at our second reading (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). “We, though many, are one body.” Through Baptism we become one with Christ. Through Holy Communion we intensify and nourish our bond of intimacy with Christ. Indeed, any of the two Eucharistic species is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. By partaking of it, we become more and more the Body and, therefore, also the Blood of Christ. “The cup of blessing that we bless is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?”
There is only one Body of Christ. The Body that took flesh in the womb of Mary, that walked the streets of Palestine, that healed the sick, that was crucified, that ascended glorious into heaven, that is in the Eucharistic bread and wine, and all of us taken as one, are one and the same Body although seen in different expressions, in different forms, but all equally real. If any of us fails to discern the Body of Christ in any of its expressions, all visible to the eyes of faith, by eating the Eucharistic bread he/she eats his/her own condemnation.
To put this mystery of Corpus Christi in a nutshell: we are the Body of Christ, nourished by the Body of Christ to recognize, love and serve the Body of Christ horizontally.
And now, some inescapable conclusions that must be dealt with:
The first one is quite frightening because it deals with the possibility of a crucial failure to discern the Body of Christ horizontally. The sojourn in the desert for 40 years (Deut 8:2-3, 14-16) is a symbol of our sojourn in this foreign land of earth. The reason is the same for the Jews of old and for us: to see whether we keep God’s commandments. We, the Body of Christ, gather around the altar to commit ourselves to obeying Jesus’ new commandment given first to the disciples during the Last Supper: to love each other (the rest of the Body) as Jesus has loved us.
Hence, the purpose for receiving the Body of Christ in Holy Communion is exclusively to enable us to discern His Body horizontally so as to love it, to serve it and to care for it at the cost of our very life. St. Paul tells us how far we have to go in loving, serving and caring for, after we discern the Body of Christ horizontally: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” 1 Cor. 11:26
If we are one with Christ, we proclaim our own death too: our willingness to die loving, serving, caring for His Body. Do you see how crucial it is for us to discern the Body of Christ in all its facets and manifestations?
Let us stop; catch our breath; contemplate the incredible and challenging gift that Jesus has given us in calling us to be more and more united with Him, to be made more God-like with every reception of the Eucharist. At the same time, we shall grow in appreciation of the challenge that we take on by receiving the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. We commit ourselves to the discernment and to the service of that Body unto death in order to have eternal life. We are mindful that, at the end, we will have found eternal life by having discerned his Body and by having fed, quenched the thirst of, clothed, welcomed, visited with and comforted that Body. We are also mindful that failure to have discerned His Body and failure to have fed, quenched its thirst, clothed, welcomed, visited with that Body will have caused us to have eaten judgment on ourselves.
We shall pray for each other in earnest, then, so that we may be always, and act always, as one Body, nourished by one Body, to serve the same Body until we shall celebrate life divine as one Body in God’s Kingdom. Amen.