Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 109: 1,2,3,4; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Gospel of Luke 9:11b-17
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 23 June 2019
In today’s Gospel of the episode of the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish, I would like us to note that there is a certain pattern of human attitude and behaviour that the apostles, and you and I often experience in our daily living. First, the apostles were facing a crowd of 5,000 men, not counting women and children who were hungry. The usual human temptation, tendency and response is to turn away from the problem that seem insurmountable. So, the apostles, asked Jesus to send the people away.
However, Jesus chose to urge His apostles to embrace the seemingly insurmountable problem as a challenge in faith, instead of turning away from the reality of the need. And so Jesus replies, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” But they retorted, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish?!” Here we see how the apostles, like all of us, have the tendency of resistance. In other words, when we face painful and difficult problems in our lives, /our immediate response is to choose the “easier and least painful path”.
Seeing their human tendencies and weakness, Jesus intervenes out of His Compassion for the hungry crowd and instructs His apostles, “Get them to sit in groups of fifty.” The apostles, no longer resist and obeyed Jesus. Similarly, we remember that in the episode of the miraculous catch of fish, when Jesus asked Peter to cast their nets over starboard, Peter too resisted and said, “Lord, we have worked hard all night and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will obey.”
It was in the face of the humble obedience to Jesus’ instructions that Jesus was able to work the miracles of the multiplication of loaves and the miraculous catch of fish. I would like us next to reflect on this Truth of the Gospel of Jesus in the light of the reality of the world and our human challenges.
Reflect on the lives of people around us and in the world for a moment: Migrant workers labouring in the heat and rain, faceless internally displaced people, hopeless refugees, and in the streets around our city district, the many destitute in their makeshift shelters, huddled in dark corners against the cold. . . Do our hearts yearn in pain to reach out and soothe the sufferings of these “faces of misery” in our society?
Let us note that, unlike us, these people have suffered too much and for too long; and, in all probability and understandably so, have given up hope in life, because they have very little or no options, in their lives. All they see is a world that marginalises them, oppresses them, and denies them the basic necessities of life – their human rights. Let us remember too that our world is rife with human suffering that extend beyond the observable – individuals and families who may have the resources to meet their physical needs /and yet, are also going through their own form of “agonies”.
Can we make sense of all of these? Yes, but only if we try to reflect on them in the light of our faith in Jesus, who is Our Lord and Saviour.
Many years ago, a friend of mine (Janice, not her real name), shared with me the traumas of her life. She shared, “My husband (an alcoholic, gambler and womaniser) not only abused me and my three-year old son so severely that, when I was pregnant with my daughter (Mary, not her real name), my water bag burst prematurely. Before I was wheeled into the delivery room, the doctor (who had 30 years of experience) warned me that my womb would need to be removed, or I would bleed to death. He also added, that either my baby in my womb or I, or both of us, could die. In total surrender to Our Lord, I prayed and drew the strength and even with peace faced whatever may come upon me and Mary.
When I woke up the next morning to see both of us alive, I knew that as God had not taken me to heaven, He wanted me to take care of my two kids. The doctor told me that, in the 30 years of his practice, he had never seen so many blood clots in a womb.
Mary was in ICU. All her internal organs, and both her eyes were not fully developed. She had two big blood clots beside her brain that threatened to blind her. Her jaundice was two degrees from death, and she had to have full blood transfusion on several occasions. I would visit her four times a day in the ICU, to massage her, to pray and sing hymns into her ears, through tears that flowed uncontrollably. There was little hope of survival for Mary, but in all of these, I was sure that God was with me. God was also “weeping and suffering with me”. Very gradually, Mary grew stronger and bigger, and eventually, was discharged ten months later, weighing 1.8kg.
However, even as joy filled my heart, returning home filled me with fears of what was to come. As expected, my husband continued to abuse all of us: physically, mentally and emotionally, over the next couple of years. He almost killed Mary on five occasions, but she survived. I realised that if this continued, he would kill all of us one day or before that happens, we might rather kill ourselves, to end the misery. Eventually, I divorced him to save all our lives.
Looking back, I thank God that both my kids and I are still alive and are healthy today; trying to live our lives as best as we can, even though life is full of pain and sorrow. I gave up my executive job soon after Mary was born, so that I could care for my two kids. I have been without a full-time job for the past ten years. Savings are low and often, temporary projects keep me going. Even as I am desperate, God in His Mercy, continues to provide for us, through so many miraculous ways. He never fails us. Believe me, neither will He fail you if you are in need.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in trusting the Lord, Janice was able embrace and go beyond her traumas and agonies and “see and experience” the miracles of God’s Merciful Compassion in her life. Even as her faith kept her going, she tells me that nevertheless, God’s divine ways can often be imperceptible to our human senses and logic. In such situations of trials, we just got to persevere and trust in the Lord who never fails.
Archbishop Dominic Tang, the archbishop of Canton was imprisoned in China for 22 years, from the 5th of February 1958 to 9th June 1980, for his faith and loyalty to the Church and papacy. Of these 22 years of imprisonment, 7 years were in solitary confinement. I had the great honour and privilege of meeting and spending four days in the same Jesuit community in Hong Kong, with Archbishop Tang. He was indeed a man of great humility and holiness. He shared with me that the solitary confinement cell was not large enough to stand up nor to lie down and stretch your legs fully. And so, he prayed the Rosary all the time with his fingers.
One day, Archbishop Tang was surprised with the news that he could leave his solitary confinement cell for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. His persecutors wondered what he would ask for: A hot shower? A change of clothes? A long walk outside? A chance to call or write to family? What would it be? Archbishop Tang responded without hesitation, as he must have been longing of this every day of his 22 years of imprisonment. He says, “I would like to say Mass!”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Archbishop Dominic Tang and Janice in our stories drew their spiritual and divine strength from in their faith, in the Eucharist throughout their traumas and tribulations in their lives. What about us? Do we value the divine Gift of God in the Eucharist or do we take it lightly because we have so easy access to the Eucharist, and perhaps, unlike Archbishop Dominic Tang and Janice, our lives are not as turbulent and trying?
As I conclude, let us remember that The Eucharist is a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrificial Self-giving. The Jews offered animal sacrifices to God, believing that life is in the blood of the animal, and that the animal blood is a substitute for human lifeblood. Following this Jewish tradition, Jesus offered His own lifeblood as a substitute for the lifeblood of all human beings and, so, as St Paul in his letter to the community of Corinth, 1 Cor 11:25 at the Last Supper with His apostles, after giving them His Body in the form of Bread, in the same way He took the cup says, “This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of Me.”
My brothers and sisters through this Last Supper celebration, Jesus sealed the New Covenant between God and humankind (1 Cor 11:25), bringing new life to the world. Today’s Corpus Christi readings remind us of Jesus’ offering of His Body and Blood which serves in the Church as a lasting memorial of His saving death for us. We renew Jesus’ Covenant by participating in the banquet of his Body and Blood, a banquet that, through his death, and Resurrection gives us eternal life.
The Eucharistic celebration is also a sacrifice because it is the re-presentation or re-living in an unbloody manner of Christ’s Death on Good Friday and of his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. By means of signs, symbols and prayers, we share in Christ’s passion, death and Resurrection, made really present for us in an unbloody manner. This re-presenting, this re-living of the One Sacrifice of Christ, which is the heart and point of every Mass; assures us of Jesus’ love for us and of His forgiveness of our sins. Through this sacrifice, the Risen Jesus becomes present on the altar, offering Himself to the Father through, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of the priest.
In addition, we share in his Divine life, which is an assurance of eternal life and the basis for the conviction that we are children of God the Father.
Our finite experiences prevent us from comprehending the mystery of the Divine that is Present in the Eucharist. However, God’s unfailing Providence, Protective Love and Presence faithfully never fails to reach out to sustain us during our most difficult moments, through giving us the divine strength to live in the wisdom of our faith, with courage and fidelity as Archbishop Dominic Tang and Janice in our stories testify to us that with God nothing is impossible.
So, on this Solemnity of Corpus Christ, let us renew our faith in God, with deep gratitude in our hearts, for the divine gift of the Eucharist, that offers us Eternal Life, so that we will no longer take the Sacrament of the Eucharist for granted.
Ref: Fr Antony Kadavil, Vatican News; https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-06/sunday-reflection.html.; re: Msgr. Timothy M.Dolan, Preists of the Third Millennium (2000), p.216.
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Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.