Monday, June 7, 2021

TASTING HEAVEN, A homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Year B

In San Giovanni Rotundo, where St. Pio lived, there was a man, born blind, who met Pio practically every day. After a while it occurred to him that here he was blind yet he got to meet a miracle-working priest every day. Why was he still blind? That thought, wherever it came from, wormed its way into his heart and caused him great distress. Why was he still blind? Why was God ignoring him? 

Then one day St Pio, as he was passing from the church to the friary, stopped and laid his hand on this man’s head. Instantaneously the man was filled with a joy so great he felt he was about to die. He was so afraid he pulled his head away. Pio said to him “That is a little taste of heaven. You can have your sight and risk losing it or you can stay blind and be guaranteed it.” I know this story is true because not only did I get it from a reliable source but it was confirmed for me by an old lady I knew in Dublin. She had been an early devotee of St Pio, went to San Giovanni and met St Pio many times, and even met the man in question. When she met him he was very old and he was still blind.

Last Sunday we celebrated the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the extraordinary privilege we have of not only knowing about the inner life of God but being invited into that Life for all eternity. We have been offered not only the sight of God but a place above the angels on the throne of God. This Sunday we celebrate another aspect of that gift. It is through communion with the Son of the Father, who became man for us, suffered and died for us and rose from the dead for us, that we have eternal Life with the Father. In Baptism we were really and truly united to Christ and all that He has is ours.

God the Son, second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became truly human for us without ceasing to be divine. His whole life and ministry was one long revelation, a revelation of the Father. On the Cross of Calvary He revealed to us how much He loved the Father and how loveable the Father is. On the Cross He made His eternal worship and love of the Father visible to us and offered that eternal loving worship to the Father on our behalf. This is why the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary infinitely outweighs our sins. That Sacrifice of Calvary is made present at the Mass. We participate, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not only in Good Friday but in the Eternal Worship of Heaven.

The Holy Synaxis, fresco  by Panselinos (late 13th to early 14th century) in the Protaton church, Karyes, Mount Athos, Greece.

At the Mass the Sacrifice of Calvary, and the Eternal worship of the Father by the Son, is represented in an un-bloody manner. At the Consecration., when the priest says “this is my Body” and “this is my Blood”, the bread and wine, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become really and truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. There is no change that can be detected by our senses, yet He is truly and completely present. Yet this is true of all the Sacraments. There is no visible change in Baptism or Marriage or Ordination. The change is beyond the reach of our senses. Only our faith tells us about the reality that is hidden but the reality does not depend on our faith.

When we receive Him in Holy Communion we receive all of Him not a part of Him. We can receive Him because we have been baptised into Him and so we are already united to Him. We receive Him who offers Himself to the Father on our behalf to bring us to the everlasting peace and joy of Heaven.  Or rather He receives us. He makes us welcome in His Kingdom. We receive, as St Augustine says, “what we will be” but also what we are already by Baptism and Confirmation. 

Many years ago I got to meet a famous Catholic composer and musician. I had bought and listened to his music for years. I queued up and shook his hand, exchanging a few words and then moving on. I told my fellow friars “I’ll never wash this hand again!” Needless to say I did. Yet it was wonderful to meet someone who had inspired me for years.  If the Pope, or the President or your favourite TV personality or pop star were to be here this Sunday how would you have come? Would you not have scrubbed yourself spotless, worn your best clothes and gotten here well ahead of time? Would you not have been excited and attentive to everything they did and said?  How much more then ought we to be attentive when it is not some mere human being who comes to us but God Himself?  But God comes to us not once in a blue moon but every time the Mass is offered.  How ought we to receive Him, to attend to Him, to make Him welcome?

He comes to us not in glory and power but in humility and gentleness under the signs of bread and wine but it is not in any way bread and wine that we receive. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ but not only the Body and Blood of Christ. In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ the Son we receive His Father. In receiving the Father and the Son we receive the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is communion with the Most Holy Trinity and so we have Heaven within us; our souls are on its threshold. We receive not just a taste of Heaven but Heaven itself. Therefore Holy Communion is more valuable, infinitely more valuable, than the whole Universe.

If Holy Communion is so valuable, so important, so Holy is anyone worthy of it? Remember this if nothing else: No one is worthy of Holy Communion. Not the Pope, nor any of the bishops or priests, nor St. Pio when he was alive, nor St. Anthony, nor St. Leopold nor any of the saints. It is given to us as a free, unmerited gift. We never asked for it, expected it nor could we ever, ever have earned it. The Real Presence of our Lord and the possibility of Holy Communion is His GIFT to us because He loves us and He wants to show us His mercy and unite us with Him for ever in Heaven.

If we receive Him with reverent faith, with repentance for our sins and trust in His Merciful Love; if we receive Him with truly open hearts, our lives will be transformed. By the power of His Presence, hidden in Holy Communion, He empowers us to endure whatever suffering comes our way and to unite it with His suffering. He enables us to love and forgive, to turn the other cheek, to hope for eternal life and to work to grow in holiness. He offers not a little taste of Heaven but the whole reality because He offers us Himself.

Allegory of Holy Communion, second half 16C, 54x45.5cm, Byzantine Museum, Athens.

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