Sermons

June 6: Attenzione: Look Both Ways! (Corpus Christi B)

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:51.

Today we listen to Mark’s gospel; it is perhaps the first account in scripture about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

In John’s gospel, we are reminded that Jesus is the “living bread” and know that we must see this bread as nourishing and healing food for life.

Pope Francis continually reminds us that the sacramental bread or Eucharist is not so much a reward as it is a healing bread of forgiveness, mercy, and tenderness for our life’s journey. Since we don’t live perfect lives, this bread is there to sustain us on the bumpy road of life.

Several days ago, I listened to a podcast where a journalist friend of mine was asked by the interviewer why he had become a Catholic. Directly David Gibson replied: “the Eucharist.” This life force has become the centerpiece of his life and that of his wife and daughter. Enough said!  

Here are three brief themes about the Eucharist that touch on our celebration today.

Attenzione: Look Both Ways!

Our dining habits have shifted during the past year, with more people baking bread, eating at home, drawing on old family recipes. And there are those nights when you are simply tired of cooking. One evening, I wanted a quick pick me up and ordered a pizza from one of our area’s Italian restaurants. Now picking up the pizza had its complications — the server meets you at your car in a designated spot in the parking lot.

The restaurant had just opened its covered outdoor seating with the gas heater lamps, and it was a cold night. As I was carefully exiting the parking lot, I looked both ways like the sound driver I am.

The Italians have a name for it, “attenzione,” pay attention to the traffic, look both ways. So, I did. But it was not the traffic that caught my gaze.

To my left, I saw restaurant patrons eating generous samplings of pasta and pizza under the protected white canopy. To my right, I noticed something different: a man and woman seated between two dumpsters eating from the scraps left there.

Of course, these two people were not protected from the cold and may have been homeless, but clearly, food challenged. Neither the restaurant diners nor the street people could see one another, but I could.

For days, weeks, and even now, this split-second image haunts me.

I’m reminded of a quote from Anna Safford, a Presbyterian missionary who once wrote: “If you cannot see how you are the body of Christ, don’t bother looking for him in the bread and wine.”

We who are nourished by this bread and wine must extend our witness to see and serve hungry humanity worldwide and, yes, in our neighborhood. After all, Saint Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ!

Again, if you or I cannot see “how we are the body of Christ, don’t bother looking for him in the bread and wine.”

In a gentle fashion, Pope Francis says it best, “The Eucharist reminds us that we are not only mouths to be fed, but also God’s hands to help feed others.”

Vital signs

Our readings today speak of the powerful effects of the body and blood of Christ. As far as our vital signs are concerned, blood is a significant indicator of overall health and well-being. Most physicals begin with diagnostic blood tests.

Several years ago, I had a health issue that required my visiting the emergency room. At the time, the attending physician informed me that my blood count was so low that I needed two pints of blood.

Within two hours, I went from total fatigue to feeling like Superman ready to “leap tall buildings.” Of course, the doctor informed me that despite how much better I felt, not exert myself until they addressed the underlying condition.

For Christians, the body and blood of Christ is a sacramental life force and the centerpiece for Catholics and communities of faith such as our Lutheran and Orthodox sisters and brothers.

So, we come to this feast day, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Corpus Christi and the devotion to the Eucharist that figures deep within the very fabric of the Catholic liturgy and culture.

Devotion & Festival

It’s time for a festival. Perhaps, more so this year, we feel the need for a rebound after our long Covid-19 winter, and young and old greatly appreciate outdoor festivals, farmers’ markets, artichoke, and garlic festivals. We look forward to July 4 celebrations.

In the year 1264, when Corpus Christi became a universal Church celebration, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the poem that became the “Great Sequence” chanted before the gospel. There is a public festival in the medieval Umbrian town of Orvieto, located about 100 miles north of Rome.  At the side altar of the Cathedral, there is displayed a blood-stained altar cloth, a sign of Christ’s presence. Saint Thomas Aquinas, who wrote the hymns Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, and the Panis Angelicus, is depicted in the frescos of this elaborate church.

We will conclude today’s Mass with a benediction to honor our Lord’s presence in his sacrament and us.

With the beginning of summer, these public festivals come after Trinity Sunday and, on Friday of this past week, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Nonetheless, these may get us into the sunshine and outdoors to appreciate the abundance of God’s grace in food and music.

Saint Angela Merici Church, Pacific Grove, CA.

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