Corpus et Sanguinis Christi at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Deut 8:2-3, 24b-16a; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58 ]

About twenty years ago, a reporter covering the war in Bosnia, saw a young girl accidently shot down in the street. Shocked by the tragedy, he rushed to help a man who picked up the child and tried to carry her away. At the risk of their own lives, they carried her to the reporter’s car, then raced to the hospital. The man cradling the bleeding child in his arms pleaded, “Hurry, my child is still alive!” A few blocks later he said, “Please, go faster!” As they sped through the streets , the man wept and cried out again, “Hurry, hurry, her breathing is slowing down.” Sadly, by the time they arrived at the door of the emergency room the little girl was dead. In anguish the reporter apologized, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry we’re too late.” The man looked at him and groaned, “What a terrible task I have. I must go and tell her father that his little daughter is dead.” Stunned and confused, the reporter said, “I thought she was your child.” “No,” he replied, “but aren’t they all our children?”

Even more, are not all the members of Christ’s Body our own, our sisters and brothers with whom we share divine life, for whom we may even need to risk our lives? Like Christ in his Passion and in this Eucharist, are we willing to be taken, blessed, broken, and given to others?

One day Jesus and his disciples were in an area by the Sea of Galilee. They were surrounded by over five thousand hungry people. Jesus walked among the people, telling them stories about the kingdom of God, healing the sick with his gentle caresses, pouring himself out for their sakes. Evening approached. The apostles had only five barley loaves of bread and two smoked fish to eat. Were they trying to protect their meager supply of food when they said to Jesus, “Send the crowds away to find food and lodging.” But Jesus replied: “Feed them yourselves.” Then he took the bread, blessed it, and began breaking the loaves and sharing them with all the people. When everyone was fully satisfied, literally fattened, they filled twelve wicker baskets with what was left over, a overflowing basket in the arms of each hungry apostle. Then Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of Life. … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Like the loaves, Jesus would be taken, broken, and handed over to others for their sakes. And not long after, each of the apostles whom he had chosen and blessed, would also be broken and poured out in their turn for the sake of others.

We are truly one with the Bread of Life when we are taken, blessed, broken and given to others. This happened in a wonderful way at Mount Melleray in Ireland. The chilling winds and incessant rains of 1838 resulted in failure of their potato crop. The blight hit hardest at Mount Melleray but neighbors shared their meager provisions with the monks. The following year, 1839, crops throughout the whole country were hit with blight. Farmers became beggars. Abbot Vincent Ryan replenished the monastery’s bin of provisions as best he could. Then he had to leave for three months to make a visitation at Mt. St. Bernard’s Abbey in England. He promised to appeal for help from those he met along the way. He instructed the prior that so long as one potato remained in the storage bin no poor person who came for relief should be sent away. But Abbot Vincent did not anticipate how the numbers would increase until they averaged seventy to eighty hungry persons per day. There were not enough potatoes to feed the monks and all these people for even a few weeks, much less three months. Generously, the monks continued to share what they had, putting their own lives at risk. And when the abbot returned he was utterly astonished to find that the storage bin of potatoes which ought to have been empty long ago had not even diminished. The crowds at the monastery gate continued to increase yet there was no reduction in the quantity of food in that bin.

New Melleray was fortunate to have a delightful monk from Mount Melleray in Ireland live with us for a year. I asked Fr. Ignatius, or Tommy as his closest friends affectionately called him, about this story. He said it continues to be remembered and handed down by the monks of Mount Melleray and they still have the miraculous bin in which it happened.

We are Christians. We also will be taken and blessed by Christ, and poured out for others. Sometimes it will be in ways that no one desires, like the little girl who was killed in the streets of Bosnia, or like Jesus who was crucified on Golgatha. But take heart, for the Eucharist is God’s living promise that life is victorious over death, blessing prevails over brokenness. Those who eat the Bread of Life will live forever.