Celebrating Corpus Christ by Wojciech Szypula, SVD

 

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Body and Blood of Christ Year C |

First Reading: Genesis 14:18–20; Psalm 110:1–4; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Gospel: Luke 9:11–17

 Psalm 110:1–4

The Lord says to my lord,

“Sit at my right hand

until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The Lord sends out from Zion

your mighty scepter.

Rule in the midst of your foes.

Your people will offer themselves willingly

on the day you lead your forces

on the holy mountains.

From the womb of the morning,

like dew, your youth will come to you.

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,

“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Reading the Word

First Reading: Genesis 14:18–20

And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,

the maker of heaven and earth;

and blessed be God Most High,

who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23–26

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Gospel: Luke 9:11–17

Jesus went to Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Hearing the Word

“Comprehensive Care”

Today’s solemnity celebrates the presence of Jesus under the species of bread and wine in the Eucharist. However, this celebration also has a very human and even ordinary aspect. It shows that God’s care and concern extend not only to the soul and spiritual life, but also to the human body, and covers the ordinary and daily needs of the faithful.

The first reading presents the conclusion of a story of the four kings who invaded the land where Abram and his nephew, Lot, lived. Successfully defeating the opposition of the local inhabitants, those four kings seized the land and carried off Lot, his household and his properties into captivity (Gen 14:12). Despite the overwhelming power of these four rulers, Abram did not give up on his nephew. Thanks to his personal courage and clever military tactics, Abram defeated the superior enemy, freeing Lot and his family from captivity. The scene from today’s reading describes the victorious Abram’s homecoming. He received a hero’s welcome from the local inhabitants. Among them was a ruler of a local city – Melchizedek of Salem. The name Melchizedek is symbolic. It means “king of righteousness”, while the name of his town, “Salem”, means “peace”. Melchizedek is the righteous king of peace and also the priest of God the Most High. This is the very first time that a priest is mentioned in the Bible. Melchizedek, a priest representing God, pronounces the first priestly blessing in the Bible. He blesses God the creator for giving Abram victory over his enemies and blesses Abraham for his courage and determination in saving lives and restoring the liberty of Lot and his family. Moreover, Melchizedek welcomed the victorious Abram with the gifts of bread and wine to nourish and refresh the exhausted Abram and his soldiers.

The welcome and the care Melchizedek offered Abram and his companions were comprehensive in its double focus on the body and soul. By blessing Abram and blessing God Melchizedek ensured that Abram properly understood the spiritual foundations of his victory. He was victorious over the enemies because God was with him and God delivered those four kings into Abram’s hands.  By providing Abram with food and drink Melchizedek catered for the bodily needs of the tired hero. Those gifts of the land, bread, and wine, were also the gifts of God meant specifically to sustain and give joy to his servants. Thus, Melchizedek’s actions teach that God extends his care over the spirit and over the body of those who do God’s will. 

In the second reading, Paul instructs his troublesome Christians in Corinth on how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The background to this instruction is the Corinthians’ inappropriate behaviour during the common meals which they held in commemoration of Jesus’ last supper. These meals had both a spiritual and social significance. Spiritually, they were occasions for communal prayer and instruction based on Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Socially, these gatherings included an ordinary meal when the members shared food and drink.

However, in the Corinthian community, the spiritual aspect of those meals had been lost. Some wealthy members would come early and eat and drink to the point of becoming drunk. Others would come later and find the meal already consumed and the Christian gathering reduced to a drinking party (1 Cor 11:17-22).

In this context, Paul writes to the community with a stern reminder that the Christian gathering is a sacred occasion to commemorate Jesus’ passion and self-sacrifice. The re-enactment and remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross serve as a proclamation of his death and resurrection. This proclamation is meant to provide spiritual nourishment for the community as it awaits the return of Jesus at the end of time.

At that time, this sacred meal was either preceded or followed by the sharing of ordinary food. Many members of the community who were poor would benefit from the generosity of the wealthier members and have a decent meal. However, this social function of the Eucharistic meal must never overshadow its primary, spiritual side. In his instructions, Paul seeks to strike a balance between the spiritual nourishment and bodily provision. Each played a role in the life of this early Christian community, and one without the other would be incomplete. Thus, spiritual care and nourishment should be accompanied by bodily care and vice versa.

The Gospel passage contains the Lukan version of the multiplication of the bread and fish by Jesus. This is the only miracle of Jesus reported by all four evangelists with remarkable consistency. A constant feature of these reports is that Jesus provides food for the crowd who came to listen to his teaching. Thus, Jesus combines his teaching meant for instruction and spiritual guidance with the provision of bodily nourishment for his followers.

Each of the feeding stories emphasizes two elements. First, Jesus prays and gives thanks to God before the bread and the fish are multiplied. The gift of food is not his own but comes from God, the ultimate source of all nourishment. Second, the actual distribution of food is done by the disciples. They pass on the food provided by Jesus thanks to God’s generosity. Thus, the multiplication of the bread and fish teaches that Jesus’ concern and care touch the soul and the body alike. He cares for his followers as a spiritual leader and also a provider of food. He also teaches his disciples that their own leadership style, as future apostles, must include spiritual care combined with concern for the physical wellbeing of their followers. The book of Acts shows that they learned the lesson. The first communities they led provided material care to their members and were based on the sharing of material goods (cf. Acts 4:32-37).  

Today’s readings prove beyond a doubt that spiritual and bodily care go hand in hand. Melchizedek, the first priest mentioned in the Bible, blesses Abram and reminds him that God was behind his success. At the same time, he gives Abram food and drink. Paul teaches his Corinthian Christians about the central, spiritual importance of the Eucharistic meal. However, he also reminded them that they ought to share their ordinary food to manifest their care for one another and their unity in the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 11:33). Jesus, despite his utter focus on, and dedication to, the teaching about the Kingdom of God and discipleship, still shows concern for the hungry crowd. He feeds the people with provisions that come from God and makes the disciples sharers in this process. God’s care for the human race is thus comprehensive and holistic, involving body and soul. Those of God’s servants who understand this and act for the spiritual and bodily welfare or others are like the Israelite king of whom the Psalmist spoke in the words, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Listening to the Word of God

Today’s solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is certainly a Eucharistic feast. Today we rejoice and give thanks to Jesus for being with us through the gifts of bread and wine, which become his body and blood. How and why Jesus chose to be with us in this manner is a mystery that we approach with utter reverence and admiration. His spiritual but real presence in the Eucharist nourishes our spirits and unites us with him in a unique way.

However, the Eucharist also teaches us about the very bodily and ordinary aspects of Jesus’ care for us. We must remember that bread and wine, much like in the first reading, are first of all food and drink for the body. Therefore, as we partake in the Eucharist, we must keep always in mind that it obliges us to act like Melchizedek and Jesus – caring for the soul without neglecting the body. Our care and service within the Christian community must necessarily take into account both the spiritual and material needs. One without the other is incomplete.

Some Christians treat the Eucharist as if it was a form of magic. They come to Church on Sunday, receive the body and blood of Jesus, and return to their life believing that they are magically fed and protected from all harm. However, the Eucharist is a celebration of a specific event – Jesus’ death on the cross. When celebrating the last supper, Jesus gave the disciples specific instructions to eat the bread and drink the cup “in memory of me”. Thus, he obliged his disciples not only to observe the ritual of the Eucharist but to imitate what the Eucharistic bread and wine symbolize – his body broken by the whips of the soldiers and his blood spilled on the cross. Jesus underwent this agony for our sake so that we might have a life that even death cannot destroy. By leaving his disciples with the command to eat his body and drink his blood Jesus meant that they ought also to put themselves in the self-giving service to others. This is the sense of the Eucharistic celebration that many ignore. When receiving the Eucharistic Jesus, the believer obliges himself or herself to become like Jesus in his service and care for others. Thus, the Eucharist, while leading to the spiritual union with the Lord, must also affect and transform the lives of those who enter into this union, so that they become more like Jesus in their actions and words.

While becoming food and drink for our souls, Jesus also became an example and motivation for us to nourish one another in both the spiritual and physical sense. The beauty of authentic Christian faith lies in the combination of the spiritual with the material, and the soul with the body. As long as we live in the flesh, we must care for our bodies. Therefore, today’s feast insists that we seek and protect our bodily dignity. Care for the physical wellbeing of one another, and the search for truly human and dignified conditions of life are therefore as much a Christian concern as is the care for spiritual welfare. We ought to remember this message of today’s feast each time that we receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist.

Proverb

“An onion shared with a friend tastes like roast lamb.”

Action

Self-examination

Do I care sufficiently for my body? Is my lifestyle a healthy one?

When was the last time I assisted someone materially and showed generosity? What form did it take?

Response to God

In my prayers of thanksgiving and petition, I will seek to maintain balance and a twofold focus on the spiritual and material sides of my life.

Response to your World

I will identify someone who needs material assistance and finds a way to show my care in any way or manner which I can afford.

What spiritual needs do we have as a group? We will determine one specific way to grow spiritually and implement it.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the body in which my soul now resides. Extend your loving care so that I may have health and the material provisions to live my life in dignity and peace. Make me a generous and caring person so that through me your care for each of your children may become manifest. Amen.

 

Scripture quotations from the

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.

 

 

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