Feast of Corpus Christi
Back in 1953 I was stationed in West Hartford. My classmates and I were in our second year of Philosophy. Our professor was a priest named Xavier Welsh. To say he was a character would be an understatement. One day he asked one of his ‘surprise questions’ “does anyone know the name of the philosopher who said, we are what we eat”? Just by chance I’d just read an article in which that philosopher was quoted. His name was Schopenhauer. So I just spoke out his name. There was dead silence. Everyone was in shock, especially Fr. Xavier. He did not consider me his brightest student. My moment in the sun lasted until sundown.
But we are what we eat. If we eat good and healthy food we tend to be in shape and healthy. If we have poor eating habits we pay for them in the long run with all kinds of health problems.
Today we celebrate the wonderful feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus shocked the people of Capernaum when He told them, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you cannot have life in you. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him – whoever eats me will draw life from me.” The shocked response of the people was, “this is intolerable language, how could anyone accept it and many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.”
And this is intolerable language. Whoever heard of eating someone’s flesh and drinking someone’s blood? As the children preparing for First Communion said, “That’s gross.”
But the words and the gift of Jesus are true, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you cannot have life in you. But whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” When you come to a minister of the Eucharist and hold out your empty hand, a symbol of our neediness, bread is more than bread, it is the Body of Christ. Not a symbol, not a memory, but a reality, we receive the body of Christ. The same Christ who promised us, those who eat My flesh and drink My blood will live in Me and I will live in them.
“We are what we eat” has special meaning in this context. We don’t come to Communion because we are good or holy; we come to Communion because we are hungry, hungry to be more Christ-like. Christ becomes our bread of life so that we can become food for others.
When Christ began His public life He said, “the Spirit of the Lord has been given to me – he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.” In a way this is our task as well, to continue the work of Christ in our present time and world.
We are what we eat. Nourished by the Body of Christ we can be strengthened by Christ in our ability to love, to be there for others, find the time to make that visit or phone call, write a note. Nourished by the Body of Christ we are given the generosity to put aside our own concerns and be there for others, we are given the patience to listen to other people’s hurts and worries, to bear their burdens. Nourished by the body of Christ who was close to the poor and marginalize people of His day, we are made more sensitive to the issues of poverty and homelessness in our own city and the needs of the working poor who subsist on an inadequate minimum wage. Nourished by the body of Christ who gave sight to the blind, we can come to new sight and insight into the beauty of God’s good creation and the woundedness of planet Earth. Nourished by the body of Christ Who reconciled us to God by His passion, death and resurrection, we can find the willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven. Nourished by the body of Christ we are given Christ’s bigness of heart that helps us to accept and respect people of different faiths and cultures.
As we continue to celebrate this awesome feast we can pray for ourselves and for each that when we come to receive the Body of Christ at this Mass we be blessed to realize: we are what we eat – we are other Christ’s who, nourished by the Bread of life are bread to each other, sources of life, love and healing to all those whose lives we touch.