Corpus Christi (C)
(Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26; Luke 9:11-17)
In our first reading from the book of Genesis we heard that Melchizedek -- the mysterious priest-king of Salem whom the Psalmist (Ps. 110) also refers to as a priest forever, and whose name means King of righteousness -- came to meet Abram (to become Abraham) and his men returning victorious from battle against the former regional overlord of the land. Abram and his 300 strong force of warriors were exhausted after the battle, and Melchizedek arrived to praise the victory, bless the victors, and refresh them with bread and wine.
Here at Holy Mass we, who have been fighting to do God’s Gospel will, praise His glory, and serve our neighbour, are met by Jesus on this His day, offering Himself to us under the species of bread and wine. In line with Melchizedek’s congratulations, blessing and refreshment, for victorious Abram and his army of old, Jesus wills to show Himself with the utmost clarity as our great Reward and most loving Saviour, for under the likeness of Bread and Wine He offers Himself directly as our Food for Heavenly Life; and as the One Lifted Up heavenwards, originally on the Cross and now by the celebrating priest at Mass:
When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to Myself (John 12:32),
where Bread and Wine though One are symbolically separated that we might recognise and appreciate that the spiritual joy and refreshment His Food and Drink now offers us, cost Him so very dearly Whose Blood once dripped agonizingly down on the earth for love of us.
Let us just stop here for a moment and wonder at the wisdom and the beauty of our God! Our psalm reading today -- based on ancient traditions going back perhaps a thousand and more years before it was finally composed some 400 years before Jesus – puts Melchizedek before us as a King of Righteousness, a Priest of God Most High, coming to bless and refresh the battle-weary Abram and his exhausted men. Since Abraham is our father in faith, as St. Paul tells us and as we say in the canon of the Mass, who cannot recognize that here Melchizedek foreshadows Jesus? Jesus once took upon His very own shoulders our load of sin and death and, by rising from the dead, destroyed Satan’s dominion and power over us, before ascending to heaven in His now glorious Body of human flesh and blood and thereby opening up heavens portals to human kind once more.
Now, Jesus comes to us offering us a share in His victory through our faithful partaking in His gift of Eucharistic Bread and Wine become the sacrament of His own most holy and living (and therefore One) Body and precious Blood, the only food fit for the spiritual refreshment and eternal nourishment of all, who, like Abraham our father in faith, are answering God's call to journey onwards and upwards with and in Jesus towards the heavenly homeland He has promised us.
People of God, my brothers and sisters in Christ, here we have a truly glorious example of God’s all-foreseeing wisdom and sublime providence; enough surely to encourage us to lovingly trust ourselves unreservedly to His great goodness, and with whole-hearted gratitude to sing life-long praise to His most holy Name! Next we are told that:
Melchizedek blessed Abram, with these words: "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand".
With such words we have some indication of the nature and purpose of our Eucharist, and we are helped in such an appreciation by taking note of the difference between Jesus’ fulfilment and that which Melchizedek had originally foreshadowed. Melchizedek was, we are told, a priest of God most High; a very mysterious figure indeed, but one who could not fail to do what all priests of ancient times were appointed and expected to do: bring God’s blessing down upon mankind in need. Such priests were also channels for ascending gifts of praise and sacrifice to God from men … though those gifts being offered up were not always expressions of pure praise and heart-felt thanksgiving, many, indeed probably most, being made simply to facilitate the bestowal of further hoped-for blessings from God.
When the time of fulfilment came, none could have imagined that the ultimate Priest of God most High would be His very own Son, made man. Whereas Melchizedek had been a merely functional link between God and man, Jesus, on the other hand, is a supremely intimate Personal link uniting God and man in His very Self; and the reciprocal love between Jesus and His Father would always, and in everything, be the originating source, definitive model, and eternal fulfilment of every blessing received from God and every word of thanksgiving or act of gratitude offered by men.
Such is the Christian fulfilment of the original prophetic words of Melchizedek:
Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to people of good will;
the only full and authentic appreciation and expression of Jesus' purpose in His Eucharistic presence: to give glory to His Father by bestowing – in Himself and through His Spirit -- blessing and salvation upon the disciples given Him by His Father.
Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, it is our first duty on receiving Holy Communion to join with Jesus in giving praise and glory to God the Father Who, through the death and resurrection of His most-beloved and only-begotten Son, has saved us from death’s thraldom, and wills to protect and preserve us from the ever-threatening power and poisonous presence of sin in our lives through our Eucharistic companionship with His Son and by His Eucharistic Gift of the Holy Spirit:
If, by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For you have received the Spirit of adoption through Whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:13-17)
Then, as regards Jesus' second purpose for our reception of Holy Communion, ‘peace to people of good will’, we must bear in mind the teaching of St. Paul:
Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith;
(God) redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3: 9, 14)
Notice that teaching of St. Paul, People of God: though reception of the Eucharist bears fruit on the basis of our loving and obedient faith, nevertheless, Jesus' purpose only comes to its fulfilment through our whole-hearted, co-operating, faith.
Jesus provides food for His People through the unfailing faith of His immaculate Spouse, Mother Church; but His demand for our personal and individual contribution still remains, and the contribution each of us has to bring to the Eucharistic Table is our own faith in Jesus and our gift-of-self to Jesus and His continuing work. That is a faith not merely to be presumed in adults but to be repeatedly, actively, renewed and deepened, if the food He gives us is to be personally digested and become spiritually fruitful in our lives.
God has redeemed us through Christ Jesus; from Whom, by faith and through the Eucharist, we receive His promise of the Spirit Who will guide Mother Church into all truth, and form all of us, her children, into an abiding and ever-closer oneness with, and ever-surer likeness to, Jesus our Lord and Saviour, for the glory of the Father. However, we too often think of ‘being one with Jesus’ in an exclusive sense: extending our individual commitment to Him in all situations; intensifying our personal aspirations towards, and deepening our personal love for, Him at all times. But there is still more required, because Jesus prayed repeatedly and most explicitly that we should all enter into a true oneness-of-disciples, into the Church His Body, the fullness and crowning glory of which He Himself is, as its Head. Only as living and mutually co-operating members in the oneness, in the wholeness which is His living and therefore active Body, can we become truly, individually and collectively, one with, like ‘unto’, Jesus.
I do not ask for these only but for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are One, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me. (John 17:20-23)
Our awareness of belonging to, and being in, the Church, one with our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters (for they are ‘family’ – as St. Paul’s says – to us) all over the world, should occupy a most serious part of, and be given most serious expression in, our Catholic living, as many people from very different backgrounds rightly show us. How often do you hear of those who have received blessings of all sorts committing themselves to great personal efforts to show their gratitude for what they have received? Why should terrorists, fanatics and radicals, be the only ones to claim bonds with brethren suffering the world over? Have not we Catholics and Christians, thousands indeed millions of co-members of the Body of Christ suffering deprivation and want, trials and persecutions, because of their – and our – faith?
On receiving Holy Communion, therefore, first of all be most eager and ready to give sincere thanks, glory, praise and honour, to our heavenly Father.
Then, renewing our faith in Jesus’ presence and the Father’s goodness, welcome the Spirit Whom Jesus bestows; for though Jesus' own Eucharistic Presence in us passes quickly, He wills, however, to bestow His abiding and active Spirit to remain with us in all the circumstances of our subsequent life. Welcome, therefore, open your heart to, both Jesus and His Gift; and pray that the Spirit may rule in your personal and public life so that you may be radically re-formed in the likeness of Jesus for the glory of the Father in heaven.
Finally, never forget Mother Church. As we heard in the Gospel reading:
(Jesus) gave (what He had blessed) to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied.
It is still the same today: we are satisfied with heavenly food from the table prepared by Mother Church. The Food is, indeed, from Jesus, but It is given and presented to us, as Jesus willed and established, through the priests of His Church. Jesus has promised that He will never forget His Church; and so, although children here on earth do easily and all too frequently forget to give thanks to and for those nearest and dearest to them, we who, as children of Mother Church, are disciples of Jesus aspiring to become true children of the heavenly Father, must never fail to thank God for Mother Church, and to beseech His continued blessing on her and on her world-wide family, whenever we receive God’s food from her table at this, our God-given Eucharist sacrifice.