Homily, 29 May 2016 : The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
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Genesis 14:18-20; Psalms 110:1,2,3,4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17-------------------- Earlier this month I received a message from my younger brother. It was a short message: “The Bohemian Café is closing!” Exclamation point.My dad was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. When he was fourteen, his family immigrated to Ecuador to get away from the Nazis and the impending war. As young man he came to the United States where he met my mom. The rest is history.When I was growing up, going to the Bohemian Café was an event. The food, the brightly colored Czech paintings, pictures of men and women in ethnic clothing, the polka music – it all seemed so exotic to me as a boy in the 1960s. None of the other kids I knew ever went there. It made us different in a way. It was a family thing. Later when my folks became active members of the Omaha Czech club in the 1970s and 80s, we even went to Czech Club Christmas parties at the Bohemian Café. We never went there just to eat.But learning that the Café was closing brought back other memories as well: memories of my mother making fruit dumplings at home when cherries, plums, and apricots were in season. When she made those, everyone was home for dinner. Fruit dumplings were a family occasion.Even Christmas Eve had overtones of my Czech heritage. Our celebration of Christmas always included an assortment of foods my Dad remembered having as boy.-------------------- My mom and dad had a purpose for these special meals beyond just eating food and gathering with family. These meals reminded me of my heritage. They situated me in the world and formed part of my identity. I do not speak Czech. The last time — and only time — that I was in Prague was when I was 17 years old. But if you ask me about my heritage, I will tell you quite plainly: I am Czech.That was the purpose of our family trips to the Bohemian Café. That’s what I thought of when I got my brother’s message. And that’s what was on my mind when I began preparing for this homily.-------------------- What was Jesus’ purpose in giving us the Eucharist? In the synoptic Gospels he doesn’t really say. We are to do it in remembrance of him, but to what purpose? It’s only in the Gospel of John that his purpose becomes clear:“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” … “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day … for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." This is, I think, the primary purpose of the Eucharist and the one from which many other purposes are derived. -------------------- During the preparation of the gifts, the deacon or priest, while pouring a little water into the wine, says a quiet prayer: "By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."Once that water is poured in, it has become part of the wine, which, of course, naturally contains a lot of its own water. The act of pouring water into the wine is irrevocable. It would be impossible to remove that particular drop of water from the wine. And so this action expresses our hope that like the water added to the wine, our lives will be mingled with the Lord's forever.When I ate 'dumplings and kraut' at the Bohemian Café, they ceased to be … and became part of me. When I consume the Eucharist, something altogether different happens. I become just a little more like Christ. We all do. "It is no longer I who live," said Paul, "but Christ who lives in me."If, through the Eucharist, we become a little more like Christ, then through Christ we become more like each other. We become one body in Christ, which is, of course, yet another purpose for the Eucharist.Sharing in the food that comes down from heaven, we are formed into a family. This meal we share, it sets us apart. We are Catholics. As a family gathered around the altar, we are different from other people. There is no doubt about that. We try to live by a challenging moral code that the rest of the world does not understand. We cultivate the virtues and our habits of prayer. And though we are different from others, we aren’t aloof. The divinity within our hearts pushes us to be a people of mercy and compassion … to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore we understand that, even apart from the Sacraments, all people are made in the image of God. Thus everyone has some relation to us, ties of kinship, no matter how tenuous. This is why we share the Gospel, so that everyone might someday join in the heavenly banquet. This gentle push to share the faith is yet another purpose I see behind Jesus’ giving us the true food and true drink of the Eucharist.-------------------- My parents used celebrations around Czech food to situate their children in the world, to give us our heritage and our identity.We call God "Our Father," and it is not hard to imagine that one of reasons he calls us to this Eucharistic meal is for the purpose of giving us, his children, our heritage, our identity, our life's work, and our destiny. -------------------- This year, I think it was important for me to reflect on the purpose of the Eucharist more than on the mystery of the miracle … for the miracle is not the end in itself. God's purpose behind the miracle tells me so much about myself, and about all of you, my Catholic family.My brothers and sisters: remain Christ, and he will remain in you.A blessed Corpus Christi to you all!