The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Background: Out of the 26 particular churches that make up the Catholic Church (Maronites, Ruthenians, etc.), only the Roman Church abandoned in the course of the Middle Ages the sharing of the Blood of Christ by all believers during Communion. At about the same time the observance of a special feast in honor of the Eucharist began to develop. Not surprisingly, its name was Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Yet the post-Vatican II name for the celebration makes clear the richer and more universal meaning of the feast—the Body and Blood of Christ.
Today’s readings bring out that richer meaning since all three deal in some way with blood. They make more sense if we realize that for the Jews blood was life. (We still have that idea expressed in the word “lifeblood.”) Whether sprinkled or drunk, it conveys both the unbreakable covenant that God is making with the members of the Chosen People and its transformative power. As St. Paul says, those who drink of the one Cup are one Body in the Lord.
- Each of the three readings creates a vivid picture. Which image is most striking to you? What draws you to it? What does it express for you?
- In Mark’s version of the Last Supper, it is celebrated as a Passover Meal. Yet elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus is identified as the true Passover Lamb, a Lamb slain, yet evermore triumphant. How does your sharing in the Eucharist bring you into contact not just with the crucified Savior but the risen Lord?
- Jesus says that he will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until he drinks it anew in the kingdom/reign of God. Yet he eats and drinks with us every Sunday. How does your share in the Eucharist help you to live in the kingdom/reign of God?
- One Bread, One Cup, One Body—The core symbol of the Eucharist is sharing in a common meal. Yet Catholic piety has often individualized communion as a me- and-Jesus moment. How is Jesus challenging you to experience his presence not only in the Bread and Wine but in the other members of his Body with whom you share the meal?
Practice: Too often the real presence of Christ has been restricted to the consecrated bread and wine; yet he shed his blood out of love for every human being who has ever existed. And, if Matthew 25 is right, he is especially present in the poor and needy of this world. Meditate this week upon how you need to change your outlook on people so that you can see Christ in them. At the end of the week commit to some form of service which will make the lives of others more blessed.
Background for Jesus’s Galilean Ministry and for 2 Corinthians
Starting with the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time this liturgical year and going until the Twenty-Second we are reading week-by-week the ministry of Jesus in his native land of Galilee—interrupted only by the reading of John 6 in August. North of Judaea and separated from it by hostile Samaria, Galilee was what we would call a more pluralistic society since its neighbors on three sides were Gentiles. This intermingling is one of the reasons that Jews from Judaea would look down on those from Galilee.
Starting with the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time and running to the Fourteenth, we also read in tandem the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Corinth, a major Mediterranean seaport for east-west trade, was also a quite pluralistic city. Living in such a cosmopolitan environment, the earliest Christians there were predominantly Gentiles and from very poor circumstances.
In both contexts, therefore, faith in the God revealed in Jesus was the result of personal choice and not driven by social pressure. As the scriptures unfold over the next several weeks, we need to keep remembering both these points.
Tenth Sunday of Easter
Background: The self-assurance of the Jews from Judaea is clear in the early part of this Sunday’s selection from Mark as they condemn Jesus for curing a crippled man on the Sabbath (last Sunday’s selection). Keeping the Sabbath is more important to them than healing—even when done through the power of God. Jesus again makes clear that grace working through faith is what saves us by bringing us into right relationship with God. Salvation does not come from being born into the family of Israel but through doing God’s will.
- When have you most misunderstood and misjudged someone? What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
- When you judge others, do you do so primarily by looking at their actions or by pondering their motivations and goals as well?
- When has the Holy Spirit given you the power to do something extraordinary?
- Our friends and associates can become our chosen family which hopefully does not replace but augments the family that we were born into. Which friends have you chosen to associate with because you sense that they are in right relationship with God?
Practice: Find a copy of the Prayer for Peace attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Before you pray it each day this week, remember that, though healing the body is important, healing souls and relationships is equally important. Ask God to work that kind of miracle for you.
Eleventh Sunday of Easter
Background: “Rabbi” means Teacher, and this week we see Jesus both in his role of popular preacher and of private and more personal mentor. For he teaches the crowd by using agricultural similes that they would be familiar with but explains his deeper meaning only with his disciples in private. In a political world dominated by the Roman superpower to whom everyone paid taxes, in a religious world where the educated Jewish aristocracy looked down on “the people of the land,” Jesus tells his audience that the kingdom/reign of God starts with something very small.
- Who or what first planted the seed of faith in you?
- Who or what has made it grow?
- What fruit is ripening in your life?
- What gives you confidence as you face the challenge of living as a follower of Christ?
Practice: There are many resources that help us understand the Sunday readings. Ask around until you find one that speaks to you; then on Friday or Saturday read and pray over the coming Sunday’s scripture.
Twelfth Sunday of Easter
Background: Words have power to change things. Jesus speaks, and the storm drops. Jesus speaks, and the sick are cured. And God’s power over nature is still at work, most notably in various shrines such as Lourdes but also in the rather strict process for beatification and canonization. But words can reshape us within: “I baptize you,” “The seal of the Spirit,” Take and eat; take and drink,” “I absolve you from your sins.” No wonder St. Paul says that for those who are in Christ there is a new creation.
- When have you doubted that Jesus cared about your problems?
- What storm in your life has Jesus calmed?
- What storm do you wish he would calm?
- What conflict in society or the Church stands in the way of the new creation brought about by Christ’s love?
Practice: As we learned last Sunday, the kingdom/reign of God starts with little things. Where do you need to bring the creative, loving word of Christ to continue this world’s transformation? Your family? Your neighborhood association? The PTA at your children’s school? The political ward committee? Parish council?