Homily for the Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ, Year C 2019
“I am spiritual not religious” is the fashion statement today. It is very convenient and appealing too. There seems to be something threatening about being religious, and something winsome about being spiritual. However, the irony is we can’t be truly spiritual without being religious. Perhaps, the issue is that we have reduced religion to mean solely institutions, rules and a mere exercise of power. We have lost the true meaning of religion as the way of life, of relating with our Source, God.
We seem to have forgotten that to be religious means we are called out of our own ways of life by the Father. We are gathered by His Son for His own purpose, which is to live in a whole new way. It means we are in communion with the Father in the Spirit, love. It means we are spiritual: we have let the Holy Spirit break, mould, form and use us. We are being sent by the Father to tell the Good News that we matter, and we have been summoned to come home.
Notice how by being religious we are spiritual. For being spiritual isn’t about working according to our own spirit, but it is about letting the Holy Spirit move and direct our lives. Often, the Holy Spirit moves us in directions we feel are not good enough for us, or He brings people into our lives that we don’t like because they are broken, corrupt and sinful. We react, we distance ourselves from the Holy Spirit and create what Charles Taylor calls, “buffered selves”.
We then begin to make statements like “I relate directly with God. I do good, I help the poor, but I don’t go to Church. I am spiritual”. The problem here seems not to be religion, but our inability to stay with or stand the brokenness and mess of others because they confront and name our own mess and failings. It is a sort of denial of our own sinfulness. We don’t like the fact that religion is about our porous selves, an openness to others, allowing them to form us.
“The porous selves” is what seems threatening about religion. But it is the work of the Father. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church”. At the Last Supper, the Son, just like the Father, summoned and gathered His apostles, who variously betrayed, denied, abandoned and stood by Him. It was a mixed bag. It was porous. Never buffered. He calls all men and women.
And His Body, the Church is no different. It is made of all men and women. He gathers all. There are no two substances that better reflect this act of gathering together than bread and wine. Bread comes from the gathering of different grains of wheat. Wine comes from the gathering of many grapes – all fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. The Son takes them, blesses them, that is, He thanks God for them, breaks them and He gives Himself to us in return.
So, He takes what is ours and He gives us what is His. Where does this exchange take place? In the gathered assembly as we heard in the Gospel reading from Luke 9: 11-17. To stress how important the gathering is, St. Luke opens the Gospel reading by stating that “Jesus welcomed the crowds”. It is always God’s plan that we gather. Consequently, when we fail to gather in the name of being spiritual, we cut ourselves from the Body of Christ. We wither and we die John 15:6.
Also, when we fail to gather, we disobey the command St. Paul “received from the Lord and in turn pass on to you” as we heard in the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. “You” in the text is not “a singular you” but “a plural you” which means a gathered assembly. Similarly, when we fail to gather, we miss out of being blessed by God as we heard in the First reading from Genesis 14:18-20. Abraham could have offered his tithe directly to God, but he went to Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High who pronounced blessing on him.
But it is one thing for us to gather and another to fulfil the purpose of our gathering. So, why do we gather? We gather to offer ourselves. Who are you? Can you offer yourselves as you are to the Lord? We gather to bring our thoughts, our cares to the Lord – “Send the people away, the disciples said”. What are your thoughts about what is happening in your life? Bring them to the Lord. We gather to offer what we have, five loaves and two fish. Whatever you have, offer it to the Lord.
Put it in the hands of the Lord, at His service. The fruit of offering who we are, what we are thinking or desiring, and what we have, is that they then lose their power over us. We become free from them in order for us to be free for what truly matters – the Body and Blood of Christ. Most times, the reason why we don’t receive the Body and Blood of Christ is because we are still holding on to who we think we are: “a failure, the worst sinner that God cannot forgive”.
We also gather to do what the Lord has commanded us to do – to proclaim His death until He comes. We gather to proclaim how He died to wealth, power, pleasure and honour. We gather to proclaim where He died, at Calvary, the interception of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome; signifying that Christ is the Centre of life, politics, economy and civilisation. We gather to proclaim why He died on the Cross so that we too can die on our crosses to sin and its effects.
Finally, we gather to be fed with the Divine Life. We gather to receive the new life, the life of communion in the Body of Christ. We gather to recall that “From the time of the Last Supper until today, Jesus ‘disdains no dwelling, but consents to come like a guest to any heart, even the one that is defiled’ (St. Thomas Aquinas). He comes to transform us just as the Host is transformed; not in outward appearance, but in our inner lives” (from the Word Among Us June 7, 2015).
Fr. Francis Afu