Years ago when I taught moral theology to high school students, I used an exercise to demonstrate how people develop routine patterns in their daily behaviors. I would direct my students to stretch out their arms in front of them and then to cross their arms in front of their chests. I asked them to look down and take note of which arm was on top and which arm was on the bottom. A second time, I directed them to stretch out their arms in front of them and then to fold their arms in front of their chests but in reverse order. After needing to try it more than once and some giggling, most of my students agreed that it was difficult to do and it took some real concentration to make the change.
This demonstration shows us that we often do things with little or no thought at all. We do things habitually. When a minor change is asked of us, we are caught off guard and have to
think things through. It’s no wonder then that more significant changes in our lives require more thought, more time, and more openness for us to accept them.
Really big changes require us to undergo a major transformation of our very selves. It means we can no longer cling to who we are or act as we always have done but we must integrate our knowledge, our experiences, and our feelings letting go of the past and looking with hope towards the future. Each of the three readings for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ has something to say about our human transformation.
In the first reading, the writer of the Book of Deuteronomy, is recalling the story of Moses and the Israelites some six centuries after their being freed from bondage in Egypt. The writer’s purpose is to remind readers that it was God who fed the Israelites when they were hungry. It was God who guided their way. It was God who forgave their sins. And it was God who protected them from the dangers of the desert. They had forgotten that it was God who made their journey and survival possible.
“Remember!” “Remember!” “Remember!” says Moses and don’t take your lives for granted. Filled with the daily gift of manna from God Moses encourages the Israelites to change and to look beyond the gift to the Giver of the gift. By gratefully remembering all God’s gifts, they were to be transformed and become more sensitive and more aware of the much greater gift of God’s word to them-“not by bread alone shall you live but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is pointing out to his Christian community that to eat a meal given in honor of a pagan god or goddess was not like having a casual dinner with family, friends, and neighbors. For Paul, each meal shared in honor of a pagan god or goddess created a relationship among the participants as well as between the participants and the god or goddess. To participate in a cultic meal could not be considered as a pleasant, neutral act. On the contrary, it served as an outward sign of an inner allegiance and acceptance of the god or goddess being honored. Therefore Paul emphasizes for the Corinthians and I believe for us the importance of sharing the Eucharistic meal. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ we are not only nurturing our personal relationship with Jesus but our relationship with one another.
In today’s gospel, Jesus validates Paul’s theology of the Eucharist with its transforming affects. In receiving the Eucharist we give allegiance and acceptance of Jesus as our way of life. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” To give allegiance and acceptance of Jesus is to be transformed into the person of Jesus. Consequently, we are challenged to make the life of Christ our own.
Remember, that in John’s gospel, Jesus did not say the words over the bread and wine until he first gave an example of washing each other’s feet. So we are being transformed to accept the fact that we share one bread and one cup with people not only at the Church of St. Matthew but throughout the world. It is the one bread and the on e cup of the rich and the poor; of the humble and the proud; of the powerful and the powerless. Sharing one meal makes us family to one another and together we are drawn into the body of Christ.
Our celebration of the Eucharist, challenges us to care for the sick as Jesus cared for the sick. It challenges us to confront injustice as Jesus confronted injustice. It challenges us to teach as Jesus taught. It challenges us to feed the hungry as Jesus fed the hungry. Each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist whether it be on a Sunday or on a weekday, at a wedding or at a funeral, we recall what took place at the Last Supper. It is not something that we do out of routine like crossing our arms. It is what we do to become more Christlike.
Fr. Bob Kelly