Corpus Christi Sunday
Preached June 23, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Let me start with a little comment about Melchizedek, about whom we heard in today’s 1st reading and Psalm, so that when I mention him later on you will have a point of reference. The noble vestments that a Catholic priest wears when he celebrates Mass is a symbol of the visible priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, which is itself a symbol of the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the High Priest.
Continuing on now, many of you have probably heard it said at some time or another that the Catholic faith is not about a bunch of doctrines, but about a person, Jesus Christ. The statement is true after a fashion, but it can also be ambiguous and potentially misleading.
The statement is true if it means that it is not enough just to believe the doctrines, if a person never enters into a living relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. That is indeed a danger. A person can believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and even obey the commandments, and never really know Jesus.
There is, however, a grave danger in the statement itself, namely that it can set up a false opposition between the doctrine about Jesus and the person of Jesus, as though the two could be separated. Or to put it this way: it is impossible to enter into a living relationship with Jesus Christ without the true doctrine about Jesus Christ.
Consider this: When the man, Jesus of Nazareth walked in Galilee and Judea, gathered disciples, taught and worked miracles. A great many people met the man, heard him speak, and witnessed his miracles. So, all those people had some sort of relationship with the man Jesus Christ.
But what did they think about him? Some thought he was a blasphemer and deceiver and so they wanted to silence or kill him. Some thought he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or another one of the old prophets. Some thought he was the Messiah or Christ, the Son of David, but nothing more. St. Peter, on behalf of the rest of the Apostles, declared, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And, You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. (Mt 16:16; Jn 6:68-69)
Now before the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the Apostles, and the other disciples who shared the same faith in Jesus, did not understand a lot of his teaching and failed him in many ways, especially at the time of his betrayal and crucifixion.
Nevertheless they were the only ones who had a living relationship with Jesus Christ and that relationship was based on a right understanding of who he was and is, an
understanding that enabled them to trust him unconditionally, the way a man can only rightly trust God himself.
That right understanding was based not only on Jesus’ miracles and other actions, but also on his words, his teaching. They saw that he not only related to God as to his Father, but that he also spoke and acted with all the authority of God, as though he were God himself, but they would have had a hard time concluding that he was indeed the very Son of God, if Jesus himself had not suggested and confirmed the doctrine with his words. The true doctrine takes the believer beyond the visible appearance of the man to the divine reality of the Son of God.
After St. Peter first professed his faith in Jesus as the Son of God, Peter, James, and John had this faith confirmed on the Mount of Transfiguration by the voice of the Father, teaching the true doctrine, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him. (Mt 17:5)
So a right relationship with Jesus requires the doctrine about who Jesus is – the Son of God made man; what he does for us – offer his life as a sacrifice on the Cross for our salvation; what he expects of us – to obey his commands and follow his example; and what he promises to those who follow him faithfully – eternal life.
Now towards the beginning of John’s Gospel there is an interesting encounter with Jesus that takes place. Two disciples of St. John the Baptist (one is Andrew, the other is likely John himself) witness John the Baptist point out the man Jesus, saying, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. … I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God. (Jn 1:29,34) Believing the Baptist they had a basic idea of who Jesus was and what he does. They began following him. Jesus turned and asked, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ (Jn 1:38-39)
So starting with the truth about Jesus, received in faith, the two disciples sought to enter into a relationship with him, to follow him and to share his life. It all began with a very concrete and visible encounter with the man Jesus Christ. They would indeed share the life of the man during the last few years of his life on earth. Before he left, they heard the same man, the Son of God, who abides eternally in the bosom of the Father, (cf. Jn 1:18) praying, Father, I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:24)
So today, where are we to find Jesus, to enter into a living relationship with him, to follow him, to share his life, to let him lead us to the glory he had from before the foundation of the world in the bosom of the Father?
We must be careful. Jesus himself warned us: See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’, and they will deceive many. (Mt 24:5) And, If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do
not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it you beforehand. So if they say to you, ‘He is in the desert,’ do not go out there; if they say, ‘He is in the inner rooms’, do not believe it. (Mt 24:23-26)
This indeed sounds like our times: today we have the Jesus of Oprah Winfrey, the Jesus of Dan Brown, the Jesus of Deepak Chopra, and many other gurus who are saying, “Look here. Look there. I will reveal to you the secret never before known.”
Let me tell you, the secret has been known ever since the Word was made flesh, suffered and died for us and rose from the dead. Since then the mystery has never been hidden from those who believe.
Nevertheless, the age of information has exploded with false, distorted, and misleading statements about Jesus and his teaching. It would be very easy indeed to follow after a false Messiah, a false Jesus, in place of the real Jesus.
So where do we find Jesus so as to enter into a living relationship with him?
Some will speak with a reassuring voice, “Not to worry, Jesus can be found in the Bible.” Well, yes, the Bible contains God’s word – but this too has been subject to distortion – and Jesus can speak to us today through the word of God, especially when it is proclaimed at Mass, but where is Jesus himself?
So others will say, “You meet him in the poor and in your neighbor.” Again, yes, Jesus counts whatever is done for the least of his brethren as done to him, but where is Jesus himself?
Others will say, “Well, Jesus is God, he is everywhere.” Well, yes, as God he is everywhere, but by becoming man, he made himself the one mediator between God and man, our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He did this because we do indeed need a mediator with God. As a result, we need to enter into a relationship with the man Jesus, our mediator and High Priest in order to draw near to God.
Where, then, can we meet our mediator and High Priest and so enter into a relationship with him? It must be possible, because before he departed from this world he said: Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world. (Mt 28:20)
The man Jesus, is Emmanuel, God-with-us. Where do we find him with us to this day? Where can we see him?
Right where he has always been: In the tabernacle.
Now Jesus said, Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. (Mt 18:20) What really does it mean, though, to be gathered precisely “in the name of Jesus”?
This takes place above all when the Christian faithful officially gather under the authority of the visible priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, which is the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This takes place in the celebration of the Mass. Then we are most truly gathered in the name of Jesus. Then Jesus becomes present to us not only in a spiritual fashion, but he even makes himself present in his human bodily substance. There also he remains even after the assembly is dismissed and the faithful depart from the church.
At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and said, Take and eat, this is my Body, which will be given up for you. And the chalice of wine, saying, Take and drink, this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
There we find the man Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, our mediator and High Priest, in his very Body and Blood, hidden beneath the appearances of bread and wine. He is there as our sacrifice, offered to the Father; he is there as the Sacrament, our spiritual food given to us in Holy Communion; he is there also, as abiding presence in our midst, waiting for us in the tabernacle, waiting for us to come and see where he lives, to spend time with him, to share his life. Where the Body is, there the eagles of faith will gather. (Cf. Mt 24:28)
How do we know this? Not by looking at bread and wine. We know this because of Jesus very words. There is nothing truer than the words of Truth himself. (cf. St.
Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote) Yet, the meaning even of Jesus’ words is subject to distortion. So it is important to add that we know this also by believing the doctrine about Jesus that has been handed on in the sacred Tradition of the Church he established. We need to believe his words, his teaching, according to the meaning handed on in the Tradition of the Church, in order to enter into relationship with him, here and now, in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, the Holy Eucharist.
The Holy Eucharist is truly the mystery of faith.
This teaching about the Eucharist is certainly found in the Bible, but it does not come to us apart from the Tradition of the Church that Jesus himself established, the Church that was born from his wounded side on Good Friday and made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost.
When we believe the true doctrine about Jesus, then we are able to hear his voice inviting us from the tabernacle, saying, “Come and see where I live.”