Corpus Christi

Scripture Readings: Ex 24:3–8;  Heb 9:11–15;  Mk 14:12, 22–26

“A man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him.” This man carrying the water jar— who is it? I believe this is the only time Jesus ever tells anyone to follow someone other than himself, so of course, the man with the water can be no one other than Jesus himself, because we don’t have two masters, now follow me, now follow that other guy. Or, we can put it this way. The man with the jar of water is the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism, the man with the water jar—Jesus with the Gospel invitation—gives us free access to the Upper Room. The Upper Room is ready when you arrive already furnished with the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. The Upper Room is the greater and more perfect tent that the Letter to the Hebrews talks about. It is the Body of the Risen Christ, the Church that Baptism brings you into, the House of God. It says the room is large. The Body of Christ is capacious, it is a capacity fully equipped, ready, and always waiting to receive people assembling for celebration, people seeking safety, people seeking healing and forgiveness, people seeking belonging with other people, seeking communion, solidarity, covenant—the Church.

It is in this Upper Room that Baptism opens to us that together our feet are washed and our hunger fed by the Body and Blood of the Lord, his enduring love, the pledge of friendship, the gift of immortality, the imparting of a sharing in the divine life itself, deification, and, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “the cleansing of consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” The Blood of Christ impinges upon our consciences. Perhaps this impinging is a little too intimate, too forward, too personal, a meaning of “large” different from what we banked on when we entered the Upper Room. Because conscience is me as present to myself as myself, conscience is my consciousness not of things but of me myself as the subject of what I do and have done; consciousness of me not as a thing among other things, but of me as an event whose “event-ing” has an impact on the others in the Upper Room, an impact dealing death, as the Letter to the Hebrews says in black and white terms, or an impact imparting life: in biblical terms, conscience is my moral life of either righteousness or sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Conscience is our most secret core and sanctuary where God’s voice is speaking (CCC 1776). “It is important for very person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience”(CCC 1779). It is to conscience that Jesus directs the command, “Be ye perfect,” and not the suggestion, “Be ye therefore slightly improved” (Iris Murdoch). No one can deny that conscience is a struggle. A living conscience tries, if at all possible, to bring together moral imperatives and reason’s reasons on the one hand, and the heart’s reasons and choices of will on the other. Conscience is self-consciousness, self-awareness, interiority; but for real and not virtual or robotic human persons true self-consciousness always reveals to me the presence of an    other and of others with whom I am related: I am real and really conscious only to the extent that in my moral life—in what I choose to do and actually do—I am related to an Other. That conscious relatedness to an Other in communion with others is what the Gospel calls the Upper Room, the Church, the Body of Christ; it is what we mean by covenant and community and, in modern terms, by the culture of life. “This is my blood of the covenant, shed for you and for many” (Mk 14:24), To act with a conscience that recognizes and reveres no Other, that ignores “the many,” is to act in death: “The one who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 12:29). But when the conscience is cleansed then I am alive, not as I alone, but as I-and-Thou, in relationship with the living God and with all the others in the Upper Room whom God has called and loves. I read about a new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. A teen commits suicide. She leaves a note giving thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Each of the thirteen reasons is a specific person in her life, and the action of each that led her to take her own life. From the teen’s point of view, these were thirteen consciences whose works were dead. In addition, the adults in the series fail to understand or help youth in crises. The youth feel they must handle every trauma on their own. They are excluded from the Upper Room of covenant, solidarity, communion and belonging.

The Blood of Christ is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus that Saint Paul talks about in Romans. The Blood of Christ frees us from the law of sin and death to serve the living God in adoration in One Other than ourselves, in works of mercy, in forgiveness, to the point of laying down our lives for the others in the Upper Room, which laying down your life is the highest degree of consciousness, to “do this in memory of me.”


Corpus Christi

[Scripture Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26]

Celebrating today the Solemn Feast of Corpus Christi, we monks are very pleased to have with us a good number of our neighbors and friends. The traditional Corpus Christi procession is always felt with greater effect when we have a good crowd. But, I wonder if you've thought about this: What if a non-Catholic friend of yours, out for a Sunday drive, happened to pass by the monastery and, curious about the place, came up the driveway, parked, and ventured into the back of the church, and recognized you singing and walking in procession behind a thin wafer of bread encased in a golden ring carried by a priest in richly colored vestments? Seeing you Monday morning at work, he might ask you: “What was that all about?” How would you answer him?

Well, you might tell him the liturgy he witnessed is the celebration of a covenant between God and humanity; a covenant of love whose beginnings go back to a conversation between God and Noah after the flood. You could explain to your friend that, with Abraham, this covenant was renewed and with Jacob it was confirmed again, at which point, Jacob did something interesting: he piled up a bunch of rocks to visibly mark the place where he and God spoke together. With Moses, the covenant was again renewed when God dictated Ten Commandments by which Israel must remain faithful to the covenant. And again, Moses did something distinctive: he built an altar to commemorate the covenant, and on this altar, instituted the practice of sacrificing bulls whose blood, the symbol of life, was offered in homage to God the author of life and of the covenant. When at last Jesus came into the world, he renewed and transformed this ancient ritual by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice; ratifying the ancient covenant with God by shedding his own blood and securing eternal redemption for all humanity. “That wafer of bread”, you might tell your friend, “is the sacrament of Christ's body which he offered us to eat as a sign of his sacrifice on the cross, and of the eternal covenant by which we believe God's love triumphs over sin and death.”

Now, note this: were you to explain all this to your friend, you would not just be telling him what the Feast of Corpus Christi is, you would be telling him what a Catholic is. Actually, hearing all this, he might, say: “Well, okay. That's all quite interesting and very beautiful but what exactly is the purpose of looking at that wafer of bread. Why do you have all those people kneel down and gaze at the communion bread which, by your own account, was given to you to eat? What are you all looking at?” This is a very interesting question, and I would suggest you tell your friend frankly: “It is because Roman Catholics, uniquely, among all Christians, are makers of images.” At which point you might call his attention to the glorious tradition of Catholic art: the paintings, sculptures, literature, music and architecture; some of the greatest works of art ever produced.

But you should make clear to your friend that it is God who is the original maker of images: who made the shimmering rainbow that showed Noah, actually showed to his eyes the beauty of the covenant; who took Abraham to the top of a hill and showed him a vision of the lands promised him by the covenant; who dazzled Jacob with the spectacle of a ladder and majestic angels descending and ascending to heaven, and it is Jacob who, in imitation of God, became one of the first human makers of images, piling up a few rocks on top of one another, a pile of rocks that would grow up and become the cathedrals of Chartres, Strasbourg, and Notre Dame. Finally, Jesus, the image of the invisible God Himself is shown to the world and made a sacrifice that we can see and touch. It was Moses who, by building an altar, introduced the idea that sacrifice is something made. Jesus, in today's gospel, is making a sacrifice. So far from passively submitting to being sacrificed, Jesus actually makes of himself a sacrifice which will have a very distinctive form: he will prepare a room; and make provision for the proper liturgical celebration of the traditional Passover Meal. Jesus is making of himself a sacrifice to God as an artist might perfect a piece of sculpture.

Why do we gaze at the Eucharistic bread? Because, like our Lord, Catholics are makers and we know that to make a thing, you need first to see a form. You must see; you must have a vision of what it is you intend to make. Today, brothers and sisters, God is showing to your eyes this vision. Can you see the vision? Look and see that as I was relating the stories of the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Moses, there was a form revealed to you; a vision of a figure appearing, the figure of a man approaching as through fog, his features becoming more distinct as makes his way toward us through the centuries. He is Jesus Christ, revealed to you in the rainbow after the flood; shown to you again in the fiery angels Jacob saw descending and ascending to heaven, in the calf Moses slew on the altar, and today in the sacred host displayed in the monstrance carried in procession. May our liturgy this morning be the occasion for all of us to renew our faith in God and in our Catholic tradition by which we are confirmed as Catholics; as seers of visions, and inspired makers of images that reveal to human eyes the mystery of God who became an image in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Corpus Christi

[Scripture Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26]

When the Lord called Mosses to come up on Mt. Sinai he made it very clear who was to come with him. Aaron, of course, and Nedab and Abihu, the 70 elders, but—and the Lord was very clear on this— not the people. The words are, “The people shall not come at all,” (Ex. 24:1-2).

The people, however, is a hallowed term for Americans; our government is formed of the people, by the people and for the people. In a democratic society the elected officials represent the people and are answerable to them. There is no such thing as entitlement in our government.

When Jesus came he did not identify himself with the ruling party either in government or religion. He was with the people. St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us at our Lauds reading this morning that the Eucharist was instituted for the salvation of all and for the benefit of all. He also said, the sacraments are for the people just as Jesus said the Sabbath is for man not man for the Sabbath.

In our religion all the baptized are priests and can draw close to God. Today we are celebrating the presence of Christ among the people in the Eucharist. Think of how many types of people approach the Eucharistic table everyday throughout the world, the worthy and the unworthy. In fact none of us are worthy yet we are invited just as Mosses was to approach and come close. After all, no other sacrament has greater healing power than the Eucharist.

Each day the celebrant holds up the host and says, “Behold the lamb of God” and we respond by saying, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” I remember once Fr. Shawn said how would you feel if as the priest is distributing the host he came to you and said you are not worthy and went on to the next person? We would no doubt be highly offended, yet we just said we are not worthy. How deeply do we believe these words? I think it helps to paraphrase them. What we are saying is Lord, do not enter my life it is not a healthy place. Under my roof means my world, my environment, where I live, do not come Lord it is not a good place. Do not enter it Lord. Yet, say but the word and I shall be healed. Then my place, my life will be a temple for your presence, a shrine where I can adore. We all have our own secret world and our Lord knows what it is like and yet he comes in everyday and accepts us as we are.

The Eucharist is the perpetual memorial of Christ Passion where he was handed over and poured out. In fact every day we hear the words of consecration, “This is my Body which is given up for you, this is my Blood which is poured out for you.” When we receive the Eucharist we become another Christ and we should live like him. Jesus shows us the way to live in this world. The Eucharist is not just a pious devotion it is the secret of life. To give ourselves away is the only way to realize ourselves. Jesus does this each day in the Eucharist and when we lose ourselves as He did then only can we find ourselves. Our whole life is a Eucharistic sacrifice.