John J. Lydon, O.S.A.
Vicariato San Juan de Sahagun
Trujillo (La Libertad)
Dt 8: 2-3, 14b-16a
Ps 147: 12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Cor 10: 16-17
Jn 6: 51-58
In his encyclical on the Church as Mother and Teacher (Mater et Magistra), Pope St. Juan XXIII asked us to look at the world, to judge the circumstances in the light of the values of the gospel, and then to act so that the world is transformed into something closer to the reality of God’s plan. This process of See-Judge-Act is especially helpful as we celebrate today one of the great solemnities of the Church, the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi.
If we take a look at our country at the present time, it is obvious that it has become a place of greater political polarization, where colors are used to group Americans into opposing camps. Each reinforces its own viewpoint or prejudices with its own sources of information, and it seems more than plausible that the age of the internet has promoted this boxed-in view that ends up seeing the other side as the great enemy. We are more and more accepting of the shouting echo-chamber as a normal way of living and choosing the political agenda of the day. The “other” viewpoint becomes personalized and becomes our enemy. The “other” becomes the person who thinks differently, who is now marginalized or excluded from our own view of what is good, and true. This is what we can “see,” to use Pope John’s first step. The next question is how do we illuminate this reality with God’s word as given to us today in the readings.
Division is, of course, not new. We find it in the beginnings of creation with the story of Cain and Abel, and then in a more social way with the story of the tower of Babel. There the world divides into my group and the others, as the biblical reading of Genesis, tells us. Babel is where pride has caused a sowing of confusion and hate because no one understands the other group. This is a human reality and it is the reality of the early Christian community of Corinth to which the second reading is directed. In Corinth there are Christians who are slaves, the lowest social class, and other Christians who are free and in a different social class. They all come together to celebrate the Supper of the Lord. But they divide themselves into “my group” and the “others,” along social lines. The more privileged group sits together and as is the custom in the early communities, they share a meal (agape), but only among themselves, while the poorer members (slaves and free poor members) sit apart with nothing to eat. But then they celebrate the liturgy together. A group divided in the real world, but that comes together for praying.
St. Paul in this letter, lashes out at them, with firmness and love. It is a contradiction he says to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, but to be divided in fact. He uses the image of the Body of Christ to underscore his message. One cannot divide the “Body of Christ” which is the community, and then celebrate the “Body of Christ” in the Eucharist. The two go together. We celebrate the “Body of Christ”-Eucharist, to build the unity of the “Body of Christ”-community.
Thus, as Paul says, we receive the one Body of Christ, and the one cup of blessing, because “we, though many, are one body.” Paul tells the Corinthians to be first a united Body of Christ in community, in order to celebrate the One Body of Christ in the Eucharist. To use the image of Pope Francis, in the measure that we build walls instead of bridges, we end up repeating the sin of the Corinthian community.
This then becomes the light to help us in the present historical time that we live. We are challenged to look at ourselves and to ask if we can build bridges of dialogue, instead of walls of exclusion. Can we see in the other a point of view to be engaged in, so that we can understand more deeply, and if we disagree, can we do so without the demonizing the other? Such a demonizing is precisely the modus operandi of the Corinthians of biblical times, and their modern equivalent of today.
In the gospel Jesus gives us the reason for our hoping, rather than embracing despair, as we look at our reality. He comes to give us the “bread of life” for the “life of the world.” The Eucharist, which we celebrate on this solemnity in a special and deeper way, gives us new life precisely because we participate in the real life of Christ. We are transformed not because of what we do, or who we are, or how gifted we may be, we are transformed because God enters into our very selves, and his power lifts us up, and makes us better. The Bread of Life, gives us the font of everlasting life, and because of that our “better angels” are able to light up and dispel the darker shadows of our humanity. This is what sustains our hope, that we, and our society, can indeed change.
Like the people of Israel in the first reading, we might be tempted to look back and see the past we have left behind as a better time, and to long to return there. But God doesn’t want Moses or his people to choose the easier route; rather, he beckons them towards the route that leads them to fulfill His plan. Thus he provides the manna of the desert to sustain them in entering the challenge of the unknown future before them.
As Jesus tells us, ours is an even more powerful food, which is good and necessary, because we face a long list of challenging circumstances in a very complicated world. But like the people of Israel, or the Corinthians, we are called by God to move forward, not to look in despair longing for another time, and we are called to build unity, not promote division. That is the place where we are called to act today. Where our looking at reality and judging it through the eyes of God, pushes us forward to change in some small way, both ourselves and our society.
In the end, because of the Bread of Life, we don’t need to accept Babel as our permanent home. The unity of Pentecost, where the different ways of speaking and thinking didn’t disappear, but where each could understand the words of new life preached in Christ’s name, invites us to a different future, where unity becomes the sign of our being One Body in Christ.
This is how we, in the words of the sequence today, participate in the mission of Christ, where “Truth away the shadow chases, Light dispels the gloom of night.”
May His Truth and His Light, help us to chase away the shadows, and overcome the gloom of night in our society. This is what Corpus Christi proclaims as our mission for our society, our nation, our world.