“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53, 55-56)
Last week when I was in Italy, I entered countless churches, cathedrals, and basilicas. All of them were works of art, yet beyond the artistic treasures they contained, every time I walked into one of them, there was treasure that I looked for above all others: the tabernacle. For no matter how big or small the church, the greatest treasure it contained was reserved in that small box for in it was Jesus Christ himself. Take St. Peter’s Basilica as an example. If you have been inside St. Peter’s with it’s glorious architecture and marble floors, and Bernini’s altar, and the high decorated ceilings, you get lost in the immensity of that structure. Or you just get plain lost. There are so many people, most of them tourists, who are part of guided tours that are having the basilica explained to them. They are taking pictures, posing for selfies with the statue of St. Peter, and as beautiful and wondrous and magnificent as this sublime edifice is…it is not a house of prayer. That is, unless you go to a small chapel to your right tucked away near the tomb of St. John Paul II where tourists are not allowed to enter. Two guards stand outside the chapel door to make sure you are going in to pray, and when you enter you find the Blessed Sacrament exposed in what is probably the most beautiful Blessed Sacrament chapel in the world. There are two nuns keeping vigil up front. There are maybe a dozen or so people inside, mostly priests and religious. No photos, no tours, no talking. Only silence in the presence of the Almighty, for he is really and truly present there. That presence, His presence, is what we celebrate today on Corpus Christi. Jesus fed us, nourished us, and stayed with us.
The only Mass that I did not celebrate alone last week was on the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. It is a big feast for Italians and I was invited to concelebrate with some Franciscan friars who insisted that I read the gospel in English but I declined fearing the “are you kidding me?” looks that I would get from the Italian faithful on such great a feast if they heard a foreign tongue. When the words of consecration came, I was struck by the Italian translation of what I say every day: “Prendete e mangiatene tutti (take this all of you and eat of it.).” The Italian word for “eat” is so much stronger and has so much more meaning within the Italian culture, “mangia,” for it not only means to eat, but it means to eat until one is full and satisfied. I meditated on those Italian words for days. This is what Jesus desires when we approach his altar: that we are fed until we are full and satisfied. The Israelites ate manna from heaven when they were in the desert, and at first they were satisfied, but then they longed for the food they had when they were still in Egypt. Pope Francis in his Corpus Christi homily pointed out how foolish that was to desire “slave’s food.” We are tempted today as well when the world tells us to nourish ourselves “with money, success, power, seems tasty at first—but those are a slave’s food,” says the Holy Father. He tells us that we must ask, “Where do you want to eat? At the Lord’s table? Or the slave’s table?” Jesus already told us which table we belong at when he told his disciples the night before he died, “I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends (John 15:15).” We must reject the food of slaves, the food of this world, the food that distracts us from realizing that we belong at the Lord’s table basking in his divine presence and eating until we are satisfied, for this is the source of true life.
There are so many who take the Mass for granted. They forget that this must be the center of their week for it is the most important thing they will do all week. On Sundays, when I go to post a homily or a verse from the readings, I see friends of mine posting pictures of what they are doing with their Sundays instead of going to Mass with the hashtag “#SundayFundays.” I have never used the word “hate” during one of my homilies, and I won’t start now, but I DESPISE that hashtag. Sunday is the Lord’s day! It is the day where all of our activities should be centered around our attendance at Mass so we can be fed because if we are not fed, here is what Jesus has to tell us in today’s gospel: “unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you (John 6:55).” No life. Plain and simple. We need to be fed! Sure, have all the fun on Sundays that you want. It is a day of rest. It is a day of fun. But the fun starts here! At this table. In this church. In His Presence. Anything else and we are deceiving ourselves and eating from the slave’s table. We get seduced by laziness and by all sorts of excuses that we make as to why we don’t go to Mass. Examples: the priest is boring, the choir stinks, the people are rude, etc. Excuses that bind us to the table of slaves when all we need and all we long for is what we are fed. This may sound flippant, but over the last month people have been asking me who is going to replace me and I have responded, half-kidding and half-matter of factly, “a priest.” That is all we need up there: a priest that will act in the person of Christ and make that Christ present to us in the Eucharist. We need this nourishment because Jesus also promises us in the next verse that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (verse 56).” We walk around this earth aimlessly looking for life, fulfillment, peace and joy when all we have to do to get all of these is to walk into a church on Sunday. Stop deceiving yourselves. Embrace the gift that Christ gave us which was the gift of his very self in this Eucharist and hold it above all other treasures. Let us look for His Presence. Let us fed by His hand until we are satisfied. Let us, like Jesus, become a gift for others, and let us take that gift of His presence out into the world.