SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST: GOD’S SACRIFICE, OUR SACRIFICE

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Whenever we go on mission to remote barrios in the Philippines, we often joke that as soon as we enter the area, the chickens, ducks and other livestock animals run for their lives as if they knew they would be sacrificed at the table of the missionaries. Somebody asked, if do we not feel guilty that so many chickens are slaughtered whenever there is a mission in the barrio. We respond philosophically in jest that, at least they died of a higher cause—for the mission! (Go tell that to animal lovers and vegetarians).

There is, however, more than meets the eye in this anecdote. It highlights a profound reality of our lives, that much of our lives depend on the sacrifice of others–our parents, siblings, friends, community, church, strangers, and yes, many animals and plants.  We are sustained and feed by the sacrifice of fellow human beings and the whole of God’s creation.

Sacrifice comes from the Latin words, sacer (holy) and facere (to make). Another similar word that comes from this Latin root word is sacred. Indeed, sacrifice is holy and sacred as it implies the highest form of offering–that of one’s life for the sake of others.

Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi or the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Our Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the communion wafer and the altar wine are transformed and really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ which in technical jargon is called transubstantiation. But there is a much more important happening in the Eucharist than transubstantiation. Instead on dwelling on transubstantiation, therefore, we will focus on how the Eucharist affects our lives. What is in the Eucharist that is for us?

What transpires in the Eucharist is God’s sacrifice of God’s life for all humanity on the cross. Eucharist is the great event of Christ’s dying on the cross happening right before our very eyes, minus the blood and the gory details. This is not to soften the violence of the event but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the Eucharist is the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary itself. Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist not to perpetuate the Last Supper, but rather the sacrifice of the Cross (#1367).

God’s sacrifice on the cross and again and again celebrated in the Eucharist tells us that the giving by God of God’s life is the most sacred thing that God has done for us. The Eucharist is God himself who comes to us, a God who is passionate and loving, who suffered and sacrificed Godself for us. A sacrificing God is what God is love means.  That is why during the benediction, the priest uses the veil in touching and raising the Blessed Sacrament because the Blessed Sacrament as the symbol of God’s sacrifice is to be regarded in the highest and most sacred way, lest it be touched by our unworthy hands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Church, because being the body of Christ, she participates along with her Head, who is Christ.” (#1368). As we celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded that the most sacred thing that we can also do in life is to sacrifice our lives for others. Sacrifice is the truest way we can be justified before God.  Sacrifice is the most sacred way to God.

The Eucharist is not just a ritual, a celebration, or an obligation. It is a new time and space where we are transformed into the body of Christ—ready to be broken as a sacrifice for others and for the world. The Eucharist ushers us into a radical mindset and a whole new way of life. We do not just attend the Eucharist and not be drawn into the agape of Christ. God’s self-sacrificing love in the Eucharist is so overflowing and bubbly that it is impossible that it not engulf us, so too we may become love—self-sacrificing persons. Just like in love, we are absorbed into that love that we become that love and love becomes us; it becomes impossible to remain outside as mere spectator of this love. We partake of this love; we become in communion with it.

The Eucharist is a call to follow God’s sacrifice, that despite being broken, our lives become sacred offerings for others.

3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: JESUS WALKING WITH US ON THE ROAD

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on the road to the mission area, Cagayan Redemptorist mission 2014

Today’s gospel is my favorite resurrection story in the New Testament. It is a beautiful story full of symbolism and overflowing with meaning.

The gospel story is the story of the risen Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. One of the disciples is named Cleopas while his companion remains unnamed. Emmaus is roughly 10 to 12 km from Jerusalem.

The name Emmaus is derived from the Hebrew form hamma or hammat (חמת) which means “warm spring.”  Emmaus may have been a spa or a resort place; it would be fair to say, the Las Vegas or Pansol in those days. Why are these two disciples going to Emmaus on the afternoon of the day when they were supposed to celebrate because Jesus resurrected? As we can glean from the gospel, they were walking away from the hurt and humiliation in Jerusalem and going to a place which could take the pain away or at least distract them from it.

In other words, the journey to Emmaus was a walking away from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the fulfilment of their dream but has been shattered by the shame and humiliation of the cross. When they entered Jerusalem together with Jesus, they were hoping that Jesus will sit in glory like the kings and emperors. As it turns out, Jesus was an epic failure, dying in the most shameful way. This is too hard to take; feeling dejected, they walked away. Unknown to them, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, as he promised.

Despite the two disciples walking away from the resurrection, the Risen Jesus walks with them as a fellow-traveller. Despite that the disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death; despite not believing in his words that he will rise up again, Jesus walks and accompanied them in their doubts and frustrations as they walk out of the resurrection.

But why on earth did they not recognize Jesus in spite that Jesus walks side-by-side with them? It is utterly ridiculous not to recognize Jesus whom they have ardently followed and recognized as their Master for the past three years.

We can only conjecture two reasons. First, the humiliation and pain of unfulfilled expectation were so heavy that in spite of Jesus walking with them side by side, their eyes was closed even to the people around them.  Second, perhaps they did not recognize Jesus because the appearance of the resurrected body of Jesus might have been different from the earthly body of Jesus they have followed and interacted with before.

It was on the road that Jesus had to explain to them once again why he had to go through his suffering in order to fulfill the promises that God had told the prophets. The messiah has to go through suffering and death but attains glory and emerge victorious from death in the end. This is a powerful symbol of discipleship–Jesus and the two disciples walking, following and listening to Jesus who is the way.

The story of Emmaus represents the deepest truth of our lives. We have experienced many times in our lives walking away from failures and disillusionments – not recognized for the true worth of our efforts, not getting the job we wanted, not being loved by the one whom we love, not achieving our goals, etc. On the other hand, these experiences have taught us great lessons about life and have made us a stronger and better person.

But the gospel story today points us to the biggest fundamental walking away that we need to hurdle in life – the walking away from following Jesus’ passion, death up to the resurrection in Jerusalem. We can never understand the core meaning of our lives unless we learned not to walk away from our own death and resurrection. The core meaning of life as Jesus showed us is giving up life. Not giving up on life but dying to one’s life. In other words, the core meaning of life, the reason why Jesus gave his life for us on the cross, is love.

The redemption of the story is that the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to announce the good news and never to walk away again from the life-giving vocation that Jesus did in Jerusalem.

But this realization happened to the two disciples not without the Eucharist. The story of Emmaus is also the story of the Eucharist. Eucharist is the celebration of Easter. It is the celebration of the Risen Lord walking with us through life’s journey even if we walk away from resurrection.

In the Eucharist we who are followers on the road gather together and encounter Jesus. First, in the Liturgy of the Word as the Scriptures are broken open and explained, and, second, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where what Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection is remembered with thanksgiving and the bread that is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood, is shared among those who are the Members of that Body to strengthen their union and their commitment to continuing the work of Jesus.

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RETURN TO GRATITUDE

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Ever since the novena began in the Baclaran shrine, devotees have been writing letters of petitions and thanksgiving to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

On any given year, the letters of petitions outnumber the letters of thanksgiving by a huge margin. Of the total letters received every year, 85% to 90% are letters of petitions while 10% to 15% are letters of thanksgiving. In 2016, for example, 136,819 letters of petitions were received which represents 87.83% of the total letters received while only 18,954 letters of thanksgiving were received which represents 12.17% of the total letters received.

In the gospel of today’s 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 10 lepers petitioned Jesus to cure them and Jesus cured them all. Only one of them, however, returned to give thanks. He happened to be a Samaritan. When he prostrated himself before Jesus and thanked him, Jesus remarked on the absence of the other nine. 

“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

In our lives today, despite the many ills and difficulties we experience everyday, there are so many wonderful things that we we can give thanks for. But we do not.

Why? Because, giving thanks is like slowing down or taking a step back in order to appreciate the good things in our lives. Unfortunately, we can’t be bothered to pause from our hectic schedules. We are always busy with so many things. We are busy with, of course, the basic necessities of life–earning a living, doing our daily chores, fulfilling our role as parents, wife, husband, children, and the duties and responsibilities we hold at work, organizations, church and society. But we are also busy with getting rich, with saving money to get a brand new car, with getting to the top of the ladder, with getting an award, with advancing our career.

I am not saying that these aren’t worthy aspirations. But our attention has been drawn more and more to things that we should accomplish, we should earn, we should accumulate. We become preoccupied with success, accomplishments that sometimes we fail to smell the flowers as it were. More is better and there can never be a moment when it is enough. 

In a world driven by profit, there is a price tag for almost all good things. Even love, happiness and peace have become commodities that we have to earn or buy. The saying that “the best things in life are free!” seems to be just an illusion. 

This commodified mindset is also present in our spiritual lives, unfortunately. The nine lepers who were cured by Jesus were more concerned with fulfilling the religious rituals of cleansing rather than  giving thanks to God. In the same way, many of us are more concerned with fulfilling and doing our religious duties and obligations but fail to give thanks to unconditional love of God.

Ever wondered why despite the affluence and comfort, the suicide rate is very high in wealthy countries. Ever wondered why in first world countries many are suffering from depression and loneliness. It seemed that in today’s existential reality, there is a profound alienation from the original goodness and giftedness of life. This has led to seeing life and the meaning of one’s identity in a materialistic way; every aspect of life is attached to commodity.

Today’s gospel calls for radical change not just simply a call to give thanks and become more mindful of the virtue of gratitude. Today’s gospel call us to confront the social structures and system that has alienated us from the original giftedness of life and the original blessing of God’s creation. It is a calling to truly live out the saying, “the best things in life are free” and to add to this “because we were created in the free and gratuitous love of God.”

God has blessed us with a wonderful earth and filled it with a beautiful family of brothers and sisters. As Christians, we are called to have thankful worship of God, expressed in care for the lepers and blind people of our day—the poor, hungry, and homeless, the victims of war and oppression, the suffering and dying.

This is what we celebrate every Sunday in the eucharist.  Every eucharist is a call to return to gratitude. Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia, εὐχαριστία, which means thanksgiving. Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving to God for the original and gratuitous goodness that God has bestowed upon all life. In this way it is a counter-symbol to the prevalent culture of profit and greed which has led to the commodification of everyday life. The eucharist calls us to partake of the body and blood of Jesus by worshipping and returning to God and like Jesus, sharing our lives in service to others.

 

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST: LOOKING AT THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF THE EUCHARIST

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Last Supper – A Painting by Joey Velasco

Today, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi or the solemnity of the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. We believe that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the Eucharist sometimes we focus too much on the Eucharist as a ritual, an obligation or its theological abstraction such as transubstantiation. But the Eucharist is much more than these. The Eucharist that Jesus established, more importantly, ushers us into a new perspective of the world, a new way of life, a new vision. This solemnity, therefore, challenges us to look at the world through the eyes of the Eucharist.

In the gospel today about the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the disciples came to Jesus with the request to dismiss the people to go find food after a whole day listening to Jesus’ preaching. But Jesus challenged them with the question: “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

As the day was drawing to a close,
the Twelve approached him and said,
“Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions;
for we are in a deserted place here.”
He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Jesus’ summon or question to his disciples more than 2,000 years ago, continues to haunts us today.

There is more than enough food that is grown to feed everyone on this planet. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

More than 60,000 people will die of hunger on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Two-thirds of them will be children. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

Nearly one in five people worldwide is chronically malnourished—too hungry to lead a productive, active life. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

One-third of the world’s children are significantly underweight for their age. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

The amount of money the world spends on weapons in one minute could feed 2,000 malnourished children for a year. “Why do you not give them something to eat yourselves?”

The Eucharist is about sharing, service and generosity. It is Jesus who first showed us this. Before Jesus celebrated the first Eucharist, Jesus lived first its meaning and implication by washing the disciples’ feet.  Jesus intended the Eucharist to be a memorial of his sacrifice and selfless service for all people especially the least and the last in this world. Jesus meant the Eucharist to be a celebration of God’s fervent wish that all should be well fed just like what happened on that plain when Jesus multiplied the bread and fishes. The Eucharist, a great gift from the same God that sent the manna in the desert, should strengthen the determination of both the hungry and the satisfied to do what it takes to eliminate hunger, poverty, despair, homelessness and brokenness.

Pope Francis, commenting on this same gospel passage, highlighted the radical demand of the Eucharist as placing our whole lives and resources, how little or small they are, to feed the hungry and those who have lesser in life.

In the face of the crowd’s needs, this is the disciples’ solution: everyone takes care of himself; dismiss the crowd. Many times we Christians have that same temptation; we don’t take on the needs of others, but dismiss them with a compassionate “May God help you” or a not-so-compassionate “Good luck.” …

What Jesus encouraged the disciples to do was an act of “solidarity”… placing at God’s disposal what little we have, our humble abilities, because only in sharing and giving will our lives be fruitful. …

At the same time, in receiving the Eucharist faithfully the Lord leads us to follow his path —that of service, sharing and giving; the little that we have, the little that we are, if shared, becomes a treasure because the power of God, who is love, descends to our poverty and transforms it.

Corpus Christi Homily, May 31, 2013

This solemnity is more than just understanding the meaning of the Eucharist and taking seriously the obligation to go to mass every Sunday. The Eucharist is not just a ritual, a celebration, or an obligation. As often as we receive the body and blood of Jesus, the Eucharist transforms our human hearts and minds into the heart and mind of Jesus, a Eucharistic heart and mind. To have the mind and heart of the Eucharist of Jesus is to imbibe solidarity; solidarity especially with the hungry, thirsty, homeless, those who are disadvantaged and the least who benefits from the fruits of the earth.

If only we did not just attend the Eucharist on Sunday but practice the demands of the Eucharist every day, if only we didn’t just celebrate the Eucharist within the walls of churches and cathedrals and went out of our churches to live out its meaning in the streets, the slums, the farms and the market, if only the Eucharist has permeated the mindset of kings and rulers of nations in governing their people then our world today would have been a much happier, fruitful and beautiful world where much lesser people are hungry, thirsty, homeless and desperate. There is lesser war and oppression, more time in multiplying the fruits of the earth for the benefit of all.

We cannot just attend the Eucharist and not be drawn into the agape of Christ. God’s self-sacrificing love in the Eucharist is so overflowing and bubbly that it is impossible that it not engulf us. Just like in love, we are absorbed into that love that we become that love and love becomes us; it becomes impossible to remain outside as mere spectator of this love. We partake of this love; we become in communion with it. We become love—self-sacrificing persons.

The Eucharist ushers us into a radical mindset and a whole new way of life. It is entering a new time and space where we are transformed into the body of Christ—ready to be broken as a sacrifice for others and for the world. It is a powerful celebration which can transform us if we allow it to rend our hearts.

The Eucharist is not a static and mechanical ritual that is unaffected and insignificant in the midst of so many pain, evil and suffering in our world.  As the priest says at the end of the Eucharist: “Go in peace and proclaim the good news of our Lord,” the Eucharist is a mission; it is sending us into the world to transform the world according to the image of the Eucharist. A world in the image of the Eucharist is a world where there is overflowing generosity and service among all peoples following Jesus’ mandatus to love and serve one another.