Remaining true to Christ in the heart of the Eucharist, not trying on our own
By Father Timothy Hepner
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)/June 23
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1,2,3,4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Sequence: Lauda Sion; Luke 9:11b-17
“Give them some food yourselves!” This command of Jesus to his apostles regarding the hungry crowds elucidates the tension that is at the very heart of priestly ministry. Since we stand in the person of Christ, people turn to us to fulfill every type of human need — physical, emotional, and spiritual. Yet Jesus told his apostles, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Five barley loaves — the typical food of the poor — and two fishes are basically nothing compared to 5,000 hungry mouths. My human resources and wherewithal are nothing compared with the people who are starving for meaning, accompaniment, eternal life, or just plain bread. What does a priest do when faced with the staggering problems of humanity that he encounters in his parish’s soup kitchen, the prisons he visits, the confessional, the nursing home, or the funeral home?
He either throws his hands up in exasperation and failure, or constantly turns to Jesus in his poverty. He must, like the beloved disciple at the institution of the Eucharist, lean on the heart of Jesus and hear him say, “Without me you can do nothing. . . . Remain in me. . . . Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. . . . Remain in my love.”
HOLDING NOTHING BACK
All of this is collapsed into a beautiful simplicity captured by the words of institution quoted by St. Paul, “This is my body that is for you.” What a stunning, simple statement! All that Jesus is — his body, blood, soul and divinity — is for us. He holds nothing back.
“What then shall we say to this?” Paul asks elsewhere, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In Jesus we have everything, even (or perhaps especially) when we seem to have very little. And this is never truer than in the Eucharist.
In times past, the Church has risked becoming simply a social service, an “NGO” as Pope Francis says, or perhaps a kindly kindergarten teacher whose job is simply to tell everyone to “be nice.” This is what happens when we turn away from the heart of Jesus in the Eucharist, and rely on our own poor human resources. Deep down we realize our inadequacy in the face of the great chasm of human need, but we must create a façade to cover up the resultant fear.
BROKEN AND BLESSED
Thank God, then, for the resurgence of Eucharistic adoration and devotion in the Mass in recent years. We are blessed in our diocese to have priests who are devoted to celebrating the Mass reverently and turning all attention toward Jesus in the Eucharist. So many people, especially the young, clamor for life and meaning in the spiritual desert of the world, and they turn to the traditions and sacraments of the Church just as the crowd instinctively knew to draw closer to Jesus in the deserted place rather than running away to the surrounding farms. And so much good fruit is borne when God’s people know where to find Jesus in the tabernacle and the monstrance.
As we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, please pray for us priests and ask Jesus to help us stay out of our own way. Affirm your priests who celebrate Mass reverently. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to ensure that they have silent time every day to rest with our Eucharistic Lord so that, when they turn back toward the crowds, they are not simply giving from their own provisions.
As the apostles knew in the depths of their heart that day, we cannot give you food to eat of our own power. But we are overjoyed to be broken and blessed by Christ so that you can receive the food he has to give. And that food is Jesus himself.
Father Timothy Hepner is vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria. To learn more about vocations, go to comeandfollowme.org or follow the Office of Priestly Vocations at facebook.com/followmepeoria.