For the good people of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha, NE:
At heart of the Eucharist, the particular gift of God that we celebrate on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, is the mystery of change and transformation. Anyone who has had even a little catechism knows that Catholics believe that here on the altar bread and wine are really changed into the body and blood of Christ. This is why we fast and genuflect and keep reverent silence in the presence of the Sacrament.
But I’d like to propose that we think of this Eucharistic transformation as just the middle in a series of three related transformations. The Eucharistic change that takes place again and again on every altar throughout the world also hearkens back to a change that took place once for all; and it points forward to another change, the change we hope for in ourselves.
The once-for-all change that the Eucharistic recalls is none other than the central event of Christianity: Jesus’ passion and resurrection. The Evangelists present Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist as a supreme moment of decision. At that Passover meal, Jesus foresaw his death, he accepted it into his heart, and he transformed it into love. All the forces of sin and death conspired against him, but He accepted and endured it all because he knew that the love of His Father was stronger still. And by rising again, he broke the power of sin and death forever.
This once-for-all transformation touched off, in turn, a whole series of transformations. In his address on the Eucharist to the crowds assembled at World Youth Day in Cologne, Pope Benedict compared the events of that first Holy Week to the beginning of a nuclear chain reaction. He said that for Jesus, the Son of God, to go out to meet death with love was
like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being – the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.
In other words, it was Christ’s act of love that unleashed the power by which bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. In Benedict’s words, “Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.”
Compared with this one redemptive transformation, all other transformations remain shallow. Though science has split the atom, it has not been able to fill the hunger of our souls, our hunger to love and to be loved, our hunger for everlasting life. The words of Deuteronomy are no less true for us today than they were for the Israelites wandering in the desert: God … let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna … in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live …
But the Eucharist, wonderful as it is, is not the end of the chain. The reaction is meant to continue into a third transformation—the transformation of our lives. Through worthily receiving His body and blood, we also are given the power to become like Christ. And in moments of struggle and discouragement, I find this last change is the hardest for us to believe in.
And so we might do well reflect on this last change on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Do we really believe that the Eucharist can change us? Do we believe that Jesus can heal the brokenness in our families? Do we believe that by His power we can overcome addictions and habitual sins—anger, lust, unforgiveness? Do we believe that his embrace awaits His faithful ones on the other side of death? Or that Jesus already dwells within us now, suffering in our pain and rejoicing in our joy?
If you’re at all like me, then the honest answer to these questions is always yes and no: I believe, Lord, help my unbelief. Alongside all the places where I believe, there are also places where—even though I would never consciously say it—I don’t believe that God can enter in power. Places where I am simply resigned. Layer after layer of unbelief must be discovered, removed, and exposed to the Lord for healing. Perhaps this is why Christ has given the Eucharist to be received again and again rather than once-for-all.
As we approach to receive communion today, then, we might simply call to mind that we are saying “Amen” to all three changes. That Christ suffered and rose–yes. That the bread and wine are substantially changed–yes. But also that the same power that raised Christ from the dead and that changed bread and wine can change us—is changing us. The chain reaction has begun. The transforming power that began in Christ’s heart, does overflow into the Eucharist, and touches our lives even now.
This is why we have reason to give thanks and to celebrate on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi.