Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Way to Life

June 23, 2019 –– Corpus Christi Sunday 
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
The Way to Life

For over 50 years I was rooted in a Christian tradition that emphasized “come to Jesus.” I based my life and my vocation on the core doctrines which proclaim Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. I understood the basics of what Jesus has done for us; it was only after decades of pastoral ministry that I began to see something much deeper––that what Jesus did for us is something he does in us, and that he comes into us in the the simple and yet most profound way of the Eucharist. And with that, I found something else: The Catholic Church is a seamless garment of Christian Truth which pulls its members into the very life of Christ. This is woven into all we do as Catholics, but it is so standard and pervasive that many miss it because of its familiarity (and then, in our human weakness, it can become “mechanical”). I want to remind us, in a bit overview, of what brings us to the summit of the Church’s life: the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. 

When God first created humans in his image (Genesis 1:27) he did two things: the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7). In other words, God gave humans a physical body and a life based in Divine Spirit.

When our human parents responded “poorly” (to put it mildly!) to the privilege of choice––when they disobeyed God––their spiritual life died. Without God’s Spirit indwelling us, we are like animals without instinct. We do foolish and harmful things to ourselves and others. That is not what God intended, so still honoring the esteem of creating us in his image, God set out to win us back. That is one way to understand the ongoing intricacies of the biblical story.

Everything that God intends for us is incapsulated in the life of the God-Man Jesus. In Jesus, the Incarnation is the permanent unification of the Spirit of God with the human body. That is what Christmas is all about. It is the beginning of the story of what it truly means to be a godly human being.

Then the details get played out. When Jesus is on the verge of high visibility through his public ministry––as he begins to draw explicit attention as a truly spiritual man––he goes through a developing series of experiences which the Church came to understand as being significant for human reconciliation with God. We can enter into the life of Jesus through the Church’s liturgies. From the Incarnation at Christmas and progressing to the Real Presence of Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we are being pulled into the life of Jesus so that God’s Life can be in us.

In his baptism, Jesus is identifying every human’s basic need of the indwelling Spirit. As Jesus is baptized, he made the waters of baptism the beginning source of God’s Life.

Immediately following his baptism, Jesus was tempted. Once again the privilege of choice was being offered to a man who was totally possessed by the Spirit of God. But unlike the first man (see 1Corinthians 15:45), Adam (see also Romans 5:12–17), we find in Jesus one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So it is possible to live in a human body and say no to sin. It is possible to live in a human body and please God. It is possible be human and be holy!

But in a world where so many people still want to please themselves instead of God, holy people are often mistreated. The more Jesus taught and modeled a life full of God’s Spirit, the more a growing animosity wanted to get rid of someone who put a spotlight on the ugliness of a self-obsessed humanity.

In the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus we see the ultimate result of rejecting God. Rebelling against God always leads to hatefulness and pain and death. When Jesus suffered and died, he was taking upon himself the result of all human rebellion against God.

It can often seem that evil is stronger than good. It can feel as though hate is more powerful than love. We can begin to think that in a world where so many things go wrong, God won’t really do anything to change it. That misses the whole point. God’s way is not to lash out (but he does allow the repercussions of sin to bear its deadly fruit in the world and in our lives). God’s way is to win us back. God is working for the long-term. We are too easily obsessed with now. We spend our chips trying to be happy; God is at work to make us holy.

After a rebellious world had done its worst to the Son of God––dead and in the grave, Jesus came back from the dead––in his body––never to die again. That is why the Church is all about Easter. Our biggest enemy has been defeated by a man in a human body like ours. As we follow Jesus in baptism and trusting God in our temptations, and as we follow Jesus in allowing all that is not pleasing to God to go the Cross so that we die to whatever blocks God’s Spirit in our lives, then we have every reason to believe that we will follow Jesus in Resurrection. Like Jesus, our bodies will be raised up never to die again.

But it doesn’t stop there. Forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. This can be perplexing, but understanding the physiology of the Ascension is not the point. There is another “dimension” that is all around us but invisible and usually hidden from our natural senses. The huge point is this: Jesus, in his human body, already has an eternal existence in a dimension we call “heaven,” and as surely as we share a common humanity with Jesus, Jesus leads all who follow him from the Cross to Resurrected Life and then to a dimension of Eternal Life––in our bodies––that we cannot begin to comprehend. Then, to bring it to fullness for all God’s people, Pentecost released the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11) to all who receive him (John 1:12).

So how do we follow Jesus into all these wonders? God has put a desire in every human heart for what is right and beautiful and good. When that desire is embraced and not rejected we are beginning to follow Jesus. And “following Jesus” is not left to our own effort and understanding; Jesus has given us the Church to guide us in Truth and show us the way. Jesus has given the Church access to the significant events in his life so that the power of what Jesus went through in his human body is passed on to us through the Holy Spirit. This is one way to understand the Sacraments.

When we come into the Church, we enter into the very Life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Liturgy is a celebration of the presence of the living Christ among us. The Liturgy is a connection to that dimension where Christ has already gone. Liturgy expands NOW so that in the present moment, and especially in the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord, “the past becomes a present presence that opens a new future” (George Weigel, “Eastern Catholic Churches and the Universal Church” in First Things, 6/6/19). The Church offers a powerful reminder that “the way to God passes through things that can be seen and touched.” Jesus came in a body; he comes to us now again and again in his Body.

The very Presence of our Lord is with us in the Eucharist. We are not alone. Even more, Jesus gives himself to us as Heavenly Food, strengthening us for the journey and making all that he has done for us real and present right now! Believe… take…. eat…. worship…. and LIVE.

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