Today we celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and focus on the place of Eucharist in our lives. The experience of this past year has certainly affected the approach of many Catholics to the Eucharist – for some a strengthening of their desire to receive Communion, for others the question of whether one can get by without it. One thing is clear – the amazing enthusiasm for the Eucharist of Catholic residents in our care facilities after over a year without Mass.
When it comes to the Eucharist where do we begin? Perhaps the pandemic experience has sharpened our sense of our personal limitations. We can’t do all the things we’d like to do and exercise unlimited freedom in celebration and travel – that fundamental realization that each of us is broken! In his popular work, A Broken Bread for a Broken People, Australian Scripture scholar and theologian Fr Francis Moloney asks the question whether, in light of the practice of Jesus and the Eucharistic practice of the early Church, our contemporary Church is still 'clasping sinners to her bosom'. The Eucharist is meant to be the place where people meet the Lord despite their brokenness.
‘Brokenness’ is fundamental to the Eucharist… indeed, in breaking bread for his disciples Christ gave an example of what it means to allow oneself to be broken for the good of others. Pope Francis explains that the Eucharist gives us the strength to do this, ‘Jesus was broken; he is broken for us. And he asks us to give ourselves, to break ourselves, as it were, for others.’ In essence then, ‘The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.
We know well how parenting often involves ‘brokenness’; mothers and fathers, as it were, ‘break their hearts’ to ensure that their children grow well. In society, many people respond unselfishly to the needs of others, defending their dignity and reaching out to the poorest, the marginalized and those discriminated against – following Jesus himself who was broken for us.
Receiving Communion at Mass is not a private act of devotion but a public act which both transforms us and builds up the community. Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples when confronted by the hungry crowds who had no food - ‘Give them something to eat yourselves!’ – not unlike the important words of ‘dismissal’ at the end of Mass reminding us of our responsibilities towards others – ‘Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!’
So, how will we ‘feed the world’, share the love of Christ, and ‘give food to the crowds of today’ who do not even know that they are hungry? To even begin, we need to know and accept who we really are. St Augustine’s words express this beautifully:
If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are… When you hear ‘The body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’ Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that your ‘Amen’ may ring true! (Sermon 272) Fr Dave