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Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, (Year A)
June 26, 2011
Deuteronomy 8:2–3, 14b–16a
1 Corinthians 10:16–17
In his Letter to Women (1995), Pope Blessed John Paul II remarked that, “In this vast domain of service, the Church’s two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the ‘genius of woman;’ from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest caliber who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history” (11).
Today’s feast owes its beginning to one such instance of “feminine genius.” It took place during the Middle Ages, an era of heightened awareness of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, and of burgeoning devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
In 1208, Juliana of Cornillon, a nun in Liège, France, experienced the first in a series of visions, in which she saw a moon with one section missing.
Over time, Christ revealed to her what this meant: The omission was a feast — dedicated to the Eucharist — that was missing in the Church. By 1300, the celebration of Corpus Christi (the Latin term meaning, “Body of Christ”) became universal.
The feast of Corpus Christi highlights the essential nature of the Eucharist in Catholic life. Thus, Moses’ words to the Israelites regarding the manna apply to us: “Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.”
Actually, the Eucharist is both “bread” — the “living bread that came down from heaven” — and the Word of God: It is Jesus Christ himself.
Indeed, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
The Eucharist is also sustenance - our “daily bread,” as we pray in the Our Father — for the journey to heaven.
On Corpus Christi, the Church encourages us to participate in a Eucharistic procession, which symbolizes the heavenly pilgrimage. By observing the noble custom of carrying the Eucharist aloft, we declare our faith publicly: The Lord is with us; he feeds us with his Body and Blood.
We need this nourishment because any one of us can become disillusioned by the hardships of life, or weighed down by sin.
Amid these difficulties, God calls us to great things: to love after the example of his Son, who died and rose for our salvation.
In the Eucharist, we receive Christ’s perfect act of charity, and his power to love perfectly: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
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The only person we can control is ourselves
I never saw myself as a controlling person.
Indeed, when it came to parenting, I prided myself on allowing my children some freedom. As soon as they were able to pick out their own clothing, I allowed them to dress themselves in the morning.
I remember trying to overcome my embarrassment when some of their attire was not what I would choose. For example, playing around the house, my toddler sons insisted on long t-shirts, diapers, and cowboy boots. (We have the photos to prove it.) My young daughters loved Disney character clothing. I would have chosen smocked dresses.
When it came to their clothing, I exerted my influence only on special occasions or for modesty’s sake. While I tolerated baggy jeans on my sons, a belt was required. Still, as I watched them walk into public school with their legs swallowed in denim, hems dragging the ground, I wished they had to wear uniforms.
I let them dress themselves, but inside I was cringing.
Thinking of myself as one who didn’t exert a lot of control over my family’s everyday choices, I was taken aback only recently in life when I recognized that much of my behavior over the years could be described as controlling and co-dependent.
After being forced through personal circumstances to re-evaluate myself and my relationships, I came to see how my attempts to control outcomes were not necessarily overt. They were more subtle, but still manipulative.
I began to realize that for years I had been harboring resentments, experiencing frustration, and repressing anger because I couldn’t control or change other adults. I thought I was just being a loving and self-giving spouse and mother.
I’ve come to understand that often what I believed to be my most virtuous quality — the willingness to sacrifice for others – is my darkest quality as well — the desire to control.
I’ve come to see that my motives have been mixed, not pure as I once thought. When my giving wasn’t appreciated or rewarded in the way I expected, I was disappointed, depressed, and resentful.
It has been painful to acknowledge a pattern of behavior that seems completely contrary to the way I have seen myself for decades of family life. Yet by admitting to my dark side, I have become more aware of changes I can make in those dysfunctional patterns, changes that lead to healthier relationships in all areas of my life.
It is much easier to concentrate on trying to change other people than to concentrate on changing myself. Yet I am the only person I have the ability to change.
I am convinced that self-awareness and growth are a result of God’s transformative power and grace. Still, they often come at great cost.
I was forced to surrender my long-held notion of what it means to be a good wife and mother and accept how in many ways I have fallen short. I was forced to surrender the image I had created of happy family life and accept a more realistic one.
I am forced to see my sinfulness, but I do not despair because I see more clearly how merciful our God is.
As Gerald May, a psychiatrist and author of books on spirituality writes: “Honesty before God requires the most fundamental risk of faith we can take: the risk that God is good, that God does love us unconditionally.
“It is in taking this risk that we rediscover our dignity. To bring the truth of ourselves, just as we are, to God, just as God is, is the most dignified thing we can do in this life.”
I am taking that risk.
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It begins with a simple cloth, a lighted candle and a San Damiano cross on a table in the center of the room. Slowly, as each person comes forward, the table is transformed into a collage of living symbols.
Within the Franciscan Covenant Program, the exercise is known as altar building, a tradition that has taken hold whenever covenant members from the various sites in the Santa Barbara Province come together.
Although it has been only the second time Mike and I have participated in the tradition, I find the practice is a graced time, not only for reflection, but as a way for community members to learn something about each person and the way that God is working in their lives.
When we gathered in February, we were asked to bring an item that symbolized our gratitude for living in community. Articles presented, ranged from the serious to the silly, from a floral bouquet welcoming members to a cereal box top brought by Marie to symbolize a well stocked kitchen.
That happens without our ever having to go to the grocery store. We simply place our requests, if we have any, on a board by the refrigerator and the friar or assigned staff person makes sure they are purchased. Community living definitely has its advantages.
Prior to our gathering earlier this month, we were invited to bring an article that reminded us to re-center ourselves in Christ during the course of our busy lives.
Several people placed a rosary, symbolizing the role that Mary plays in leading them to her Son, be it through repeating a steady stream of Hail Marys or by gazing at a picture of the Madonna with the Child Jesus.
Phyllis shared how praying the Liturgy of the Hours helped her to be more disciplined and created a sacred rhythm in her day, which reminded her that the Holy Spirit is praying through her.
Her husband Paul placed a picture of himself in a kayak, representative of the manner in which God speaks to him through nature. He and Phyllis are living in one of the province’s more rural retreat settings and are surrounded by nature, including wild turkeys and deer.
The book “Tea Time with God,” a copy of the “Serenity Prayer”, a seashell and CD were among some of the items placed on the altar. Peggy was having difficulty deciding on one article so she presented several items, reminding me of the words of St. Therese, the Little Flower, who said, “I choose all” when her sister Pauline asked her which doll from her collection she would like to have.
As for me, I brought a simple clay chalice that has a prominent place on the bookcase in my office. Positioned across from my desk, it captures my attention whenever I look up from my computer.
Depending on my day and how it is going, the chalice conveys a different message, but mostly it reminds me why I am here and to Whom I belong. It reminds me of Eucharist, which is the way we begin our day, and symbolizes the fact that everything I do is in union with Jesus.
If I am experiencing a particular challenge, the chalice reminds me of the words Jesus spoke to James the apostle when our Lord asked him if he could drink from the cup from which He would drink.
Then, it helps put things in perspective and I quickly realize that my problems are very small by comparison to all that Jesus suffered.
At other times the chalice reminds me of Jesus’ first miracle, when He turned water into wine, providing an abundance of choicest wine for the guests, all because Mary trusted and believed that her Son would honor her request.
During those times I am reminded that I need to trust that God is at work, transforming the world in ways I may not always understand.
Some days I look at the chalice, and I see an empty vessel, and I am reminded that I must empty myself so that God can fill me. Other times, I see only the clay and I am reminded that God is the potter and that I am the work of His hands.
When I am struggling to find the right words for a particular column or a presentation for a retreat, the chalice reminds me that it is Christ working through me and that I am only an instrument.
At such times I take comfort in knowing that God chooses the lowest and most unlikely people to do His work and that nothing is without merit when done in union with the heart of Christ.
As you can see, altar building is a gentle way to build community, and awakens us to the presence of God in our midst in a multitude of ways. I share this practice because I believe it can be an effective tool for groups as well as families when they come together.
Though the focus may vary, the responses evoked provide food for the journey and bread for the soul. And so, from our table to yours, I offer this feast.
Feel free to partake of it, savor all it has to offer and pass it on.
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