John 6:51-58, Solemnity of Corpus Christi
When I was in 2nd-year college here, I lived with 12 other guys who were thinking of entering the Jesuits, like I was. We stayed in Arvisu House along Katipunan, and Fr Jess Lucas was our director. One Saturday, at the end of a two-day silent recollection, we gathered for the final mass. We waited in silence for Fr Jess. Finally, he came and quietly took his seat behind the altar. We were just about to begin when one guy, all of a sudden, sprang from his chair. He hurried for the cabinets and started opening them frantically, searching for something. He scrambled from cabinet to cabinet, looking up, down, sideways. Some were sniggering, but the others were just annoyed because their heads were dangerously in the way of the cabinet doors. Not finding whatever he was scrambling for, the guy rushed out of the chapel. Then he tore right back…and in his hand, a box of matches. He approached the altar and lit the one tiny candle someone forgot to light. Then he walked back to his seat & let out a big sigh of relief. What Fr Jess said after all of that would stay with me all my life. He said softly but gravely, “Sa palagay n’yo ba, hindi magiging katawan at dugo ni Hesus ang tinapay at alak kung hindi nasindihan ang kandila?” I realized, it wasn’t that Fr. Jess did not want the candle lit. But for someone to erupt into a panic like that just to light a candle—na para bang hindi bababa ang Espiritu-Santo kung nalimutang sindihan ang isang kandila, o kung naubusan man ng posporo, etc.—for Fr Jess, we were missing a point somewhere, somehow.
Now that I’m a priest myself, I couldn’t blame the guy either. Ginawa lang niya ang pinaniwalaan niyang nararapat gawin. And God bless him. But he was one of thousands of Catholics taught probably by priests, nuns, catechists, that the Eucharist is so holy, that everything must be precise, everything must be perfect. There must be a candle burning. There must be flowers. The songs must abide by liturgical rules from Rome. There must be a bell, and it must be rung at just the right time…or else! The worst experience I witnessed was when, after a concelebrated mass, we were going back to the sacristy. In one corner, the liturgist was screaming at the servers. I later found out that the poor guys simply forgot to ring the bell at the “Holy, Holy”. So, the guy in Arvisu, he must have been one of many Catholics given the impression that God will refuse to “make holy these gifts” and “send down the Spirit upon them like the dewfall to become for us, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,” unless…that darn candle is burning, and everything is perfect, and everything is under control.
Everything. But what about everyone? We, Catholics, especially us, priests, we can be so fastidious and short-tempered about the “matter and form” of things at mass, as though transubstantiation won’t happen until everything is perfect. But what about everyone? I mean, the people “everyone”. I mean the human community “everyone”. What about them? Are we not all called “the Body of Christ”?
Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is right and just that we concern ourselves with the mass, the bread and wine, the Holy Spirit transubstantiating them into Christ’s Body and Blood. But do not forget, dear sisters and brothers, Corpus Christi is not just a what or a how. Corpus Christi is also a for-whom; para kanino. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” the Lord says, “and I will raise them on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood, true drink. Whoever eats these will remain in me and I in them.” The for-whom of Christ’s Body and Blood, dear sisters and brothers, is the people, the community—all of us for whom Christ offered himself totally—as food and drink.
Now, I’m not saying we should not care about the proper things we use for mass, or words we say, or songs we sing, or what we wear. But in our devotion to Christ’s Body and Blood, we must catch ourselves when we’re starting to diminish the value of the for-whom. Madalas po kasi, sa kainitan ng debosyon natin sa Eukaristiya, nagtu-tunnel-vision tayo sa mga detalye ng mga bagay. Then, we start thinking in terms of what’s allowed, what’s not allowed, anong bawal sa misa, anong dapat ipagbawal sa misa. Di natin napapansin, umuurong na tayo sa sinong bawal sa misa, sinong di dapat magsimba. (We don’t notice that we are slowly moving towards who is and is not allowed to go to mass). And that’s only a few steps away from: “Sino ang hindi karapat-dapat tumanggap ng komunyon, ng katawan at dugo ni Hesus?” (Who is deserving of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ?) And that kind of mindset is the worst and most unChristian we could ever have, coming to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is about Christ, sisters and brothers. And Christ is always about people. In our ardor for Christ’s Body and Blood, we forget the for-whom. But the Lord never forgets his for-whom. Never.
Receiving Christ’s Body and Blood unites us with Jesus in a mysterious and even literal way, through eating and drinking. Eating and drinking are about community, sisters and brothers. So the Eucharist which unites us to Jesus also unites us with each other as community. But we more often say we go to church than think we are the Church, don’t we? Kaming mga pari, we often say that we celebrate mass in church more than celebrate with the Church the mass, don’t we? And for many Catholics, the Eucharist is a personal obligation, a private devotion, or at best, a family affair. But if we believe that we are also the Body of Christ, then all of us as a community, we are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, dear sisters and brothers, his eyes and ears. Together, we are Christ’s mouth, his voice in the world. And most deeply still, we are the Lord’s heart in the world. Through our loving each other, we are united to the heart of the Lord.
These days, too many bodies and too much blood are lost because of the heartlessness of leaders and of followers, because we have forgotten our for-whom. So, when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, let’s really remember that his heart, the Sacred Heart, is never a heart that is alone. It is and will always be a heart for the for-whom—for us. And that’s the way our own hearts should also beat.
Image from the Internet