The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: June 3, 2018
Fr. Philip Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
When we experience an exceptional love, our heart is filled with a desire that wants to return that love, cling to that love, and do great things for the one who has loved us in that way. We make promises that reflect that desire. “I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” “I will lay down my life for you.” When before the presence of the one who loves us in an unexpected way, even the ultimate sacrifice is offered without the sense that it would be a burden at all. One freely says “yes” for the good of the other. Whatever they ask for, I want to do. Even if I don’t know how I’ll do it, I say yes. This is the experience of the engaged couple or the newly weds. Their plans for the future in many ways seem impossible, but they say yes filled with hope that it will work out. We hear this confidence, certainty, and desire expressed by the Israelites in the reading from Exodus. They have experienced the tremendous mercy of the Lord who heard their cry and freed them from slavery in Egypt. They are the “chosen” people. A weak, insignificant nation that the Lord wanted for his own. This experience of being loved, preferred, and saved, unites them together and fills them with this desire for obedience and action. When Moses comes to them and relates to them all of the ordinances of the Lord that the Lord is demanding of them, they respond without hesitation and with one voice, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” To “seal” their promise with the Lord, Moses, on behalf of the people, sacrifices some young bulls, and sprinkles their blood on the altar, and then after the people make the promise again, “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do”, he sprinkles the blood on the people. The idea in this common practice among ancient cultures – making a blood sacrifice – is that they say symbolically, to express the seriousness of the promise, that if they are not faithful to the promise they have made, may what happened to those bulls, happen to us. The problem is that we are not very good at keeping our promises. The history of Israel is one of repeated unfaithfulness. The unfaithfulness is rooted in a forgetfulness of the Lord’s saving presence. When the Israelites mingle with other nations, ignore the prophets, and take on the religious practices of those other nations, they loosen the connection with the saving event of the Exodus. They rely on their own efforts and not on God. They are not worshiping God according to the way God has revealed to them. They don’t trust that the Lord who saved them in an exceptional way at the beginning will continue to save them in ways beyond their imagining. They continue the ritual actions, but at the same time use the foreign gods as “back-up” and want to have a king and army like other nations. There is a clinging to earthly power because of the fear that what God has revealed to them is “not enough.”
The sacrifices of old come to fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ. It is impossible for man to uphold his end of the covenant alone. God’s saving action in the New Covenant is that God becomes man and offers himself – offers his own blood – not the blood of goats and bulls, taking all of man’s unfaithfulness on himself to reconcile us to the Father and to seal the covenant. Only through, with, and in Christ, can we keep our promises. Only in an offering made with Christ can our desire to love – to do the impossible – in response to God’s love for us – find fulfillment. St. Peter loved Jesus tremendously. At the Last Supper when Jesus says that one of the Twelve will betray him, Peter promises that he would never deny him and that he “would lay down his life” for him. But Peter, with good intention, and noble effort, cannot keep his promise. He even pulls out the sword – relying on human strength, instead of trusting in the plan that Jesus has revealed.
At the Last Supper Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist – the sacrament of his sacrifice in which he will offer his body and blood for us on the cross. In the celebration of the Mass, the saving action of Jesus is made present to us. We enter into and are taken up into Christ’s sacrifice – his response of perfect love to the Father. We do this in remembrance of Him. In our faithfulness to the Mass, we do not forget God’s love for us and his saving action, which is not an event from the distant past, something merely historical, but a present action that unites us as one and fulfills our desire for loving as we have been loved.
Today on this Feast of Corpus Christi, when we celebrate the great gift of Jesus’ real presence with us – giving us himself – his body and blood – in the sacrament, we also commemorate 15 years of Perpetual Eucharistic adoration at St. Stanislaus in our St. Katharine Drexel Adoration Chapel. It is a tremendous blessing to have this chapel at St. Stanislaus because exposition of the Blessed Sacrament extends the graces that we receive at Mass. It allows us to continue to worship Jesus present among us outside of Mass. Why is this so special and such a blessing? Because, as the Catechism reminds us, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world” (CCC, 2097). When we worship God, we drop the fiction that we could ever face God as independent business partners – that we can hold up our end of the bargain alone. Going to Adoration, we discover how worship consists in our becoming totally receptive to God. It is not about our acting but receiving, letting ourselves be completely taken over by God. The chapel has been such a grace. Every time I’m tempted to “take out the sword” – to take matters into my own hands, to rely on my own efforts, to utilize the ways of the world to achieve what I want – when I’m not trusting in God’s plan, I can go to Jesus. In going to Jesus, I’m liberated from the illusion of my own crippling self-sufficiency. I am not alone. He who loves me is with me and gives me hope to follow and to live what I desire. We all want to keep our promises – the promises that are not illusions. In humbling ourselves before the Lord in worship and adoration, we receive what we need to live – a love that can only come from God. We are here to give thanks for this great gift. May we become what we receive and make our life a joyful response to God’s love.