Solemnityof the Body & Blood of Christ
I recently came across a story about one of my favorite Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus. The story is appropriate, I think, for today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Before becoming a Jesuit, the young Pedro Arrupe was a medical student, preparing for a career as a doctor. At one point during his studies he had the opportunity to travel to Lourdes, the site where Mary appeared to the young St. Bernadette, and where countless pilgrims now flock for miraculous healings. As a medical student Arrupe was able to obtain special permission to study the sick who came to Lourdes seeking a cure. One day, during a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, Arrupe witnessed the miraculous healing of a young man twisted and contorted by polio. Arrupe tells us that as the Bishop blessed the young man with the host, the man looked at the monstrance with the same faith that the paralyzed man in the Gospel must have looked at Jesus. The young man then rose to his feet, completely cured. Arrupe himself assisted at the medical examination of the man and became convinced that the Lord had truly cured him. Upon his return to medical school in Madrid, the one thing that remained fixed in Arrupe’s mind and heart was the image of the host as it was raised in benediction, and of the paralyzed boy who had leapt from his cart. Three months later, Pedro Arrupe left medical school and entered the Jesuit novitiate in Loyola, Spain. The rest is history.
I realize that today, miracle stories like this one are often met with much skepticism, and monstrances are mostly kept in museums or, at best, on the far back shelf of the sacristy closet. In fact, I’m sure there are many of you out there who don’t even know what a monstrance is! Perhaps rightly so. Since Vatican II we have all become more aware of the four-fold presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The real presence of Christ is found in the Word proclaimed, in the people assembled, in the priest who presides, and finally, in the food blessed, broken and shared. We know that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a dynamic presence, not a static one, and that the Eucharistic bread and wine are primarily FOOD to be shared around a table, not objects of adoration to be displayed in a monstrance on an altar. Yes, our theology of eucharist has undergone radical and important shifts in the past 40 years, but one thing definitely remains the same: We still believe that when we gather to celebrate eucharist, Christ is really present in our midst, and when Christ is present, miracles happen. When Christ is present, whether it be in the consecrated bread and wine, or in someone we love deeply, or in the homeless person we encounter on the street corner, or in a community of people gathered in the name of Jesus -when Christ is present, miracles happen. And when we learn to notice and discern that real presence of Christ in our midst - when we learn to find God in all things, as St. Ignatius Loyola often says - then the miracles become almost too numerous to count. In our first reading Moses urges his people to remember these miracles, to remember the countless ways God fed them during their journey through the wilderness, to remember how God transformed them into a people, one family, one body. We too should take some time to remember, to remember with gratitude the faithfulness of God who, in Jesus, gives God’s very self to feed us, much like a mother feeds her infant child with her own body and blood . . . much like a mother who gathers a family around her table. In remembering, we will be moved to gratitude, and in gratitude we will be moved to generosity.
I think that Jesus wants all of us here today to be miraculously transformed as we remember God’s action in our lives. Every time we tell stories about Jesus, every time we remember him, and encounter his love again in this sacrament, we are transformed into people who are no longer afraid, no longer selfish, no longer solitary. We are transformed into his body, his presence in the world, and we are strengthened to labor with him to build his kingdom of peace and justice. This, I think, is the greatest miracle of the Eucharist - the miracle that transforms us into bread for the world, the miracle that transforms us into a people of fidelity to our God, to our spouses, to our children, and especially to our poor and suffering brothers and sisters.
Do we dare to remember in gratitude all the ways God has fed us? Do we dare to say “Amen” to the presence of Christ in the eucharist today? Do we dare to let the crucified Jesus transform us with his love? . . . to let his poor and crucified people transform our priorities, our politics, our whole way of life? Say “Amen” to the presence of Christ and our lives will change. We’ll do things we never dreamed of doing before. We’ll be free in ways we’ve never been free before. And life, eternal life, will pulse through us like never before. For thousands of years, countless holy men and women like Pedro Arrupe, and like you and me, have said “Amen” to the presence of Christ, and their lives were changed forever. We too can be miraculously transformed. We too can know what it means to live eternal life, not just in heaven, but right here, right now, as one family gathered around the table of the Lord.
When Christ is present, miracles happen. And for this, it is right to give thanks and praise.