“I am the living bread from heaven, says the Lord: if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” John 6:51-52
Feast of Corpus Christi, Orvieto, Italy
We come to this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the coincidence of also celebrating Memorial Day. We recognize common themes of thankful gratitude, accomplishment, and our debt to those who have served us.
Now more than ever, we see a world so much in need of mercy and forgiveness. As Pope Francis reminds us, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, receiving Holy Communion is not a reward for merely good behavior; instead, it is the healing nourishment for reconciliation.
Two items in the news struck me, and they may have a bearing on this feast day and our national holiday.
First, this week President Obama’s extraordinary personal gestures and speech in Hiroshima, Japan, make it among the best addresses of his presidency and speaks to the importance of world leaders and the need for a moral awakening about nuclear weapons.
The outset of the speech, the president, acknowledges:
“We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women, and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoners.
Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”
He concludes with these words:
“The world was changed forever here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting and then extending to every child. This is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”
This is President Obama at his best and provides us with a lens on our own national character. Fully knowing how complicated these decisions are, often made in the “fog of war,” and have a direct bearing on combatants and innocents to the present day.
Also last week, Vietnam granted release from prison of a 70-year old Catholic priest, Father Nguyen Van Ly, a prominent dissent, as a goodwill gesture before President Obama’s state visit there.
Nguyen Van Ly had been serving an eight-year prison term for spreading propaganda against the Communist state. Our U.S. State Department noted: “We consistently have called for the release of Father Ly and all other prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.”
So that’s our week in the news.
A second news item, and one not so well reported, today, May 29th, is my 45th anniversary as a priest.
Hard to figure, we’re in the count down to a 50th anniversary, some five years or five minutes from now, whatever? Time goes all so very fast.
When you come to anniversaries as a priest, and having presided at years of Sunday and weekday Masses, funerals and weddings, people rightly ask: Are there any standouts?
I must say that celebrating Mass in an upper room in Jerusalem, in the summer of 1979, was a standout.
I was honored to preside at Mass for the Sister of Sion, whose residence the “Ecce Homo” hostel is on the Via Dolorosa, the very street where Jesus walked to his passion.
Also, in April of 2005, for the news media, I was reporting on the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II in Rome. It was the largest gathering of heads of state (more extensive even than the funerals of Winston Churchill and Marshall Tito). It brought together 4 kings, 5 queens, 70 presidents and prime ministers, 14 leaders of other religions, the largest religious pilgrimage in history with 4 million people in Rome, and me.
Here’s the best part, both Prince Charles of Great Britain and I had seats.
And you may recall, the prince delayed his wedding to attend Pope John Paul’s funeral.
You know me enough by now — significant and important are not who we are as Jesus’s family at Mass.
On May 7th, I had the honor of concelebrating at the First Holy Communion of eleven Second Graders at the Santa Catalina School. One of the youngsters and his family are friends of mine.
More to the point, Father Ron Shirley celebrated and preached at this Mass with such extraordinary sensitivity to these kids that he made Jesus and that sacred moment alive for them, their families, and me.
Father Ron told the youngsters that this was the first of many times they will meet Jesus in Holy Communion, and how throughout their lives, they can turn to the Lord in the needs, and grow more fully alive now and in their promising future.
My present and future have been so vibrant and promising over these many years. It turns out that Father Ron and I are the same age, and he was so very inspiring to me at this celebration first communion.
We come to this Eucharistic meal, day to day, or week to week, to fully realize that as Christians we are a family, and members of the body of Christ, the very feast day we celebrate today.
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.