Message for Corpus Christi
Fr. Joseph Levine; June 14, 2020
Readings: Dt 8:2-3,14-16; Ps 147:12-15, 19-20; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58
First the truth: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word the comes forth from the mouth of God.
Jesus Christ is God, the Son of God. From his mouth comes forth the creative word: This is my Body … this is the chalice of my Blood. Believing that word, we live by that word, and we are nourished by the Body and Blood Christ, the Bread of life, the true manna from heaven.
If we live by his word, both the creative word that, through the ministry of priests, changes the bread into the Body and the wine into the Blood, and the word of command, love one another as I have loved you, then we will not remain with the mere appearance of bread and wine, but will enter into the reality of the Body and Blood. Then he will live in us and we in him; then we will have life because of him, the life of grace that comes from the Father, the life of grace that makes us to be children of God, after the likeness of the Son of God; then on the last day he will raise up even our mortal bodies that fed upon the sacrament.
If… there is a big caution here. The caution has been forgotten. In days of old we heard, on this Feast, Whoever eats this bread, or drinks the chalice of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. So let a man examine himself and then eat of the bread and drink of the chalice. For the man who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment upon himself, because he did not discern the Body of the Lord. (1 Cor 11:27-29; Epistle for Mass of Corpus Christi, Mass of Extraordinary Form)
Last Sunday we heard the famous words, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Why? That the world, those in the world, might be saved through faith in him. Jesus, whose name means salvation came for salvation, not condemnation. Nevertheless, the reading ended on a sober note: whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Jn 3:18)
If we reject what was meant for salvation, the very same reality means condemnation for us, because of we rejected it.
Something very similar is at play with the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. God gave his only Son when that Son was born of the Virgin Mary, lived and taught among us, gave his life on the Cross, and rose again from the dead. God continues to give his only Son in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Again, what is meant for salvation and life, easily turns to condemnation and death. In the sequence of today’s Feast, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, we hear: “Bad and good the feast are sharing, of what divers dooms preparing, endless death, or endless life. Life to these, to those damnation, see how like participation is with unlike issues rife.”
Clearly condemnation comes to those who presume to take the sacrament without faith in the reality of the Body of Christ contained therein. Yet condemnation comes also to those who presume to take the sacrament with a soul stained by mortal sin, contradicting the charity which the sacrament signifies. Both those who do not believe and those who do not love, in accord with the command of Christ, plant the kiss of Judas on the cheeks of Christ, when they presume to take the sacrament.
The promise of life and salvation is given to those who, living in the grace of God, receive the sacrament with firm faith in the word of Christ, supernatural hope that is anchored in the promise of eternal life, and ardent love of God and so grow from grace to grace, from love to love, bearing the fruit of good works to the glory of the Father.
From this basic truth of the sacrament we need to move to a further reality of great consequence for understanding what is taking place in the world today.
We are living in a world of violence, conflict, and division. Attempts are being made to impose unity by force, not persuasion, shouting down and blocking out all opposing, nay all reasonable argument. The major media outlets and the tech giants are all evidently complicit in the effort to stifle rational dissent against the reigning ideologies.
What is going on? I would hazard to say that at the deepest root of the problem is that men are no longer united by any true common good; indeed they do not even by any shared vision of the common good.
We have often heard lately “we are all in it together”, which sounds like an appeal to unite for the ‘common good’; nevertheless, it is not at all clear what it is that we are all in together.
A true common good is not like a pie of which each member of the family can have only one piece, which will be smaller the more there are eating the pie.
Being “in it together” does point to something common, shared success and shared failure. That is what happens with a sports team. The whole team wins or the whole team loses. There are better players and there are worse players on the team, they each contribute in their own way to the victory or to the loss; the coaches and trainers also contribute in a different way. The team is united by their clear common goal, winning the game, and does best not when each member does the same thing, but when each member does his part and pulls his weight. The star can lose the game for the team by playing for himself; the second stringer can come off the bench and make a key play that might even go unnoticed.
Note that a common good does not require equality, but hierarchy. There is nevertheless a sort of equality of fairness, when each member does his part and each receives a due proportion of the glory (or shame).
To better understand the common good in our actual circumstances let me turn to a famous but ambiguous phrase in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The concept of rights is ambiguous, but the ambiguity in equality and happiness are perhaps the most important.
At present equality of results is being substituted for equal rights before the law, producing endless cries of ‘injustice’ and opening a bottomless abyss of revolutionary discontent. The cries of injustice call for expressions of solidarity with the oppressed. There is a subtle or not so subtle social pressure that is formed; if you don’t sign on to the popular slogans of solidarity, you must be counted among the oppressors. You are not allowed to think or ask critical questions.
That is how a communist revolution, such as the one that is taking place before our eyes, is staged. The communist operative divides people into two unequal classes, forever at war with one another: oppressors and oppressed. We could translate the moral quality of the two classes into Christian language by saying that the oppressors are by definition, sinners, while the oppressed are, by definition, saints.
While the revolution is underway the sinners of the oppressor class can sort of redeem themselves by aiding and abetting the revolution and confessing their sinful status to the oppressed, but once the revolution succeeds there will be no more use for them. Actually, the oppressed will discover that they were themselves exploited for the power interests of a new oppressor class. Their situation, however, will be worse, because the new oppressor class identifies itself with ‘the revolution’ and brutally suppresses counterrevolutionaries who dare to oppose them. That is what happened in Russia beginning in 1917; that is what happened in China in the 1940s; that is what happened in many other places.
The Communists claim that Christians offer only “Pie in the sky when you die”, but the Communists offer only the will-o-wisp of pie in the future: the end of the next five-year plan; or the arrival of the vaccine. In any case, they can only think of a ‘pie’ which can be cut up and divided, but is not a true common good.
More important, however, in relation to the common good is the concept of happiness. Does that consist in something that unites us, that we truly can share in together and move towards together, for which we need to help each other along the way? Or is it rather one thing for one person another for another?
In the first case, happiness, or the good in which happiness is found, is a true common good. In the latter case, there can be no real common good, because we do not really have anything in common. In the latter case, we are not all in it together, except in the most superficial and trivial ways.
Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court, in vindicating the ‘right’ to abortion and the ‘right’ to sodomy, has come down very much on the side of denying a common happiness. The famous quote from former Justice Anthony Kennedy in two majority decisions is: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey; Lawrence v. Texas) That leaves us with nothing in common; no common good.
All this is destructive of the most basic cell of human society, the family, but it also renders impossible the achievement of a true political common good. It divides people, isolates people, leaves them weak, and prey to manipulation and exploitation, whether by communists, or by whoever is using the communists for their own ends: the architects of the tyrannical “New World Order”.
Let’s go back to the sports team: they need to play well together in order to gain the victory in which they will all share, each according to his role on the team.
So in a family, the members of the family need to live well together in order to gain the happiness in which they will all share, each according to his role in the family.
Families, however, are not self-sufficient, they need larger communities, with a proper order, in which human beings strive to live well together, become better persons, help each other become better persons, so that everyone has a chance to attain the happiness in which they will all share, each according to his position in the community.
Yes, but what is that true good, in which our true happiness consists, which we are all capable of sharing, that truly unites us, and that defines what it means to be a better person?
Not just any old god, but God, the Most Holy Trinity; God to whom we are united in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity; Jesus Christ who is really, truly, and substantially present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Most Holy Eucharist.
That means that the true Body of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to the Cross, risen from the dead, and seated at the right hand of the Father, present in the Holy Eucharist, is the common good of the whole Church and indeed of the whole world. That means that the Holy Eucharist, as the true common good, is the only source of healing for division; the only foundation for true unity and peace.
Giving a more literal translation of a verse in today’s sequence: “One receives, one thousand receive; they receive as much as that one; nor is Christ eaten up by the receiving.” This is not pie in the sky, nor in the future, but the true common good of the Church of which we can partake already by faith and is at the same time the pledge of eternal glory.
Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. St. Paul goes on to add: Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor 12:12) He goes on to explain that the members have different functions, but all are equally part of the body, so that if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:26) Unfortunately, we are not ‘all in it together’, but we should be.
Receiving the Body of Christ in communion we are united not just with Jesus Christ, the head of the Body, but with all the members of the Body, so long as we are living members, united inwardly in the truth of the substance and not just in the visibility of the sacrament.
Worthy are thou, [O Lord] … for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they shall reign on earth. (Rev 5:9-10)
That is the one happiness we must all pursue.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.