The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ by Fr. Paul Seaman
LAST MONTH priests at Saint Clement all marked our anniversary of ordination. It is a joyous day, much as it is for a married couple. Anniversaries remind us of promises made and commitments kept. Couples see the imperfections of their mate and still love them. Priests see the imperfections of the Church and still love it. Marriage is the joining of two human people who seek to bring the divine into each other’s lives. In ordination, human priests are joined in a mystical union with God and His People. Like a marriage, there are ecstatic moments. Like a marriage, there are moments when a priest scratches his head and asks, “What did I get myself into?” In both of these, the human side brings out the need for compromise, kindness, forgiveness, and humor. The divine side brings us hope, comfort, joy and fulfillment, among many other things.
The great joy of my priesthood, and I hope for all Catholics, is the Eucharist. It is the focus, the center, the beginning and end of our faith, or as Vatican II put it, “the source and summit” of our lives as a people of faith. In fact, I would have to admit that it is the one thing that most clearly keeps me in the Catholic Church. All Christians share certain core beliefs and we should build on those commonalities. But where we most clearly differ is in our beliefs about salvation (the Catholic Church holds we are saved by faith and good works, while other denominations hold we are saved by faith alone); and the nature of the Eucharist (most other denominations see it as a symbol or representation, Catholics understand it as the True Presence of Jesus Christ).
These are both very significant differences and much ink has been spilled over them. But on this Feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally known as Corpus Christi, I’d like to focus on the wonder of the Eucharist. It is especially unfortunate that this beautiful symbol of our unity with God, Himself, is also a source of disunity among His People. But it always has been such, even before the Last Supper, when Jesus first gave us the Eucharist. In fact, I used an example of this discord as the Gospel at my first Mass 33 years ago. From John’s Gospel, chapter 6, Jesus told His disciples that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Obviously, this is a startling demand that is off-putting to this day. Many of His disciples walk away. It is just too much. Then Jesus looks at those who remain, and I think rather sadly says, “Do you want to leave me, too?” Think about that for a moment. Picture that in your mind. Think of Jesus asking you that question: Do you want to leave me, too? And for once, Peter gets it right! And because Peter would become the first pope, I wonder if Saint John doesn’t use him as a representative of the whole Church when he speaks these beautiful words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
What a glorious profession of faith! I read that scene as if Peter is saying, “When the chips are down, Jesus, you are the only thing that matters, that makes sense in this mad world.” And isn’t that what a couple, married in the Lord, say to each other? As they become a living symbol of Christ to one another, when all is said and done, isn’t that what it boils down to? Where else can I go? Anything else is less.
One of the most powerful moments in my ministry is the distribution of Communion. It is an honored moment for me and all the ministers of the Eucharist at Mass. As I am getting to know you, I see you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. As I hold the bread now Body, and say, “The Body of Christ” and look in your eyes, I am getting to know a bit of the story behind your “Amen!” Moments flash into my mind—she just had a baby; his daughter starred in a show; he just lost his wife; he’s confused about life as a teenager; she’s got a big interview coming…and on and on. The unspoken words are, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It is the parade of human experience, in search of the divine. It all comes together as we look into each other’s eyes, and we have a most intimate exchange: The Body of Christ. Amen!
Our church is one of the gems of Chicago architecture. It is a beautiful sign of devotion of the people of this community. Built 100 years ago, it is a symbol of the devotion of the German people who first settled this area. The renovation of the mid-1980s gave it a deeper sense of intimacy and restored its beauty. A challenge was the placement of the tabernacle, where we reserve the Eucharist that will be taken out to the sick and homebound. It is also a special place for prayer and devotion. A sign for every Catholic when we walk into a Catholic church is the tabernacle lamp, a candle burning red, reminds us of the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We are looking at the possibility of designing and placing a new tabernacle lamp in a more prominent place. My hope is that this will be a stronger indicator of our devotion to the Eucharist. It will be a reminder of the sacredness of the church, and the reverence it calls out of us.
The Eucharist is “where we go.” It is the glue of our Church, the core of our faith, the sign of who we are, the nourishment for the road ahead, the balm for our wounded souls. God has given us a gift. We prepare ourselves in reconciliation. We fast a mere one hour to remind ourselves of the sacredness of this meal. We hear the words, “The Body of Christ.” It is a reminder that we receive the Body that we may become the Body. And then we transform the world.