Sunday, June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi: Offering

(Feast of Corpus Christi-Year C; This homily was given 10 June, 2007, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Genesis 14:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & Luke 9:11-17)

Why do we pray and ask God for good things when He already knows what we want, or more importantly, exactly what we need?

Why are we encouraged, all throughout the Scriptures and especially in the Book of Psalms, to praise and worship God, although there is nothing we could ever say that would add a single thing to His glory and majesty?

And why does God constantly challenge us, in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, to give generously of ourselves to those around us and in particular to Him, even though we have nothing that He could possibly need?

The answer is rather obvious: when we do those things, we are the ones who benefit. That is why God wants us to pray, worship Him, and give.

When we pray, we are the ones who are sanctified and made more holy. We grow in our relationship and friendship with God.

It is when we praise and adore God that we are most reminded of who we are as children of God, His sons and daughters created to do that very thing.

And it is only when we give of ourselves that we are complete and fulfilled in our own personal lives. One of the most often quoted expressions of the Second Vatican Council is a line that is referred to as the “Law of the Gift.” Simply stated, it says:

Man can only fully discover himself through a sincere gift of himself.
—Gaudium et Spes, #24

We find that “Law of the Gift,” in all the lives of the Saints, and hopefully in our own lives as well. We only become complete, whole and fulfilled in this life when we learn how to offer ourselves freely and generously to God and to those around us.

Today, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, we find that theme of offering in all of our readings and in the Eucharistic Prayer itself.

In St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus performs the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand in that deserted place, but Christ is not doing some magic trick here. He doesn’t just pull that food out of thin air. In fact, He pulls it out of the disciples! They come to Him with the desperate situation of the crowds, and Jesus offers them the solution:

“Give them some food yourselves.”

It was not the solution they were looking for. They quickly complain that “Five loaves and two fish are all we have” (Luke 9:13). Yet Christ is able to take that simple and seemingly insignificant offering and feed the multitudes.

When I was first ordained, one of the biggest struggles for me was preparing the weekly homily. I would look over the readings each week, pray over them, and feel so inadequate and unprepared to present the fullness of the Gospel message. I complained to a priest friend of mine, who is an excellent preacher, and he said to me:

“You never really have to worry about that. All you have to do is give to God five loaves and two fish, and trust in Him to do the rest.”

He was obviously referring to this very passage we heard from St. Luke, and I think his advice applies to all of our lives, no matter who we are or what we do. We simply give to God what we have, however inadequate we might feel or how insignificant we may think our offering is. We give God what we have, and trust in Him to do something truly beautiful.

In our first reading this morning, from the Book of Genesis, we hear of that mysterious person Melchizedek. Melchizedek appears only once in all the Scriptures, in this brief passage from Genesis, and as “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18) he offers to Abram gifts of bread and wine. Then just as quickly he disappears.

Melchizedek is a mere blip on the radar screen of the Old Testament, and yet he is mentioned specifically in the Responsorial Psalm this morning: “You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

He is given an elaborate description in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, and he is mentioned by the Fathers of the Church and by scriptures scholars across the centuries as a pre-figuration for Christ, an archetype for Christ in the Old Testament.

St. Paul, in our Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, talks about the Last Supper, and how Christ Himself offered bread and wine in a whole new way. He relates how Christ took the bread and said:

“This is my body that is for you . . .” and how He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .”
—1 Corinthians 11:23-26

It was the greatest offering that has ever been made, the offering of Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, poured out for the life of us all. It is the sacrifice of Himself, offered to them and to us, on the night before He suffered and died, to be celebrated as an everlasting memorial uniting us to Him forever.

Today on this Feast of Corpus Christi, we reflect upon and enter deeply into that offering, which will be made present here at this altar…but it will not be made present without that seemingly insignificant offering on that little table in the center isle this morning. There we have the gifts of bread and wine.

God expects us, like those first disciples at the miracle of the loaves and the fish, to bring something here to this altar. He expects us to offer the bread and wine, but more importantly, to offer ourselves along with Christ here in the Eucharist this morning (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #48). This is the place where our offering is united to the one perfect offering and sacrifice of Christ.

In the Eucharistic Prayer we will hear this morning, the Roman Canon, the word “offering” is used 10 different times. It is like a mantra running throughout that entire Eucharistic Prayer. What are we offering here at this Mass, on this Feast of Corpus Christi?

What are the five loaves and two fish we are bringing to this celebration? Our sufferings, our disappointments, our prayers for loved ones, for guidance, for strength? Our desires for the present, hopes and joys regarding the future. What are we bringing to this altar today, along with that bread and wine?

And what is it that God wants us to receive from this altar? Nothing less than the offering of Jesus Christ Himself, the Corpus Christi, everything we need to sustain us and strengthen us on our journey home to Him.