Feast of Corpus Christi
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, CA
June 03, 2018 – 10:30 AM
Exodus 24:3-8 Psalm 116:12-13;5-18
Hebrews 9:11-15 Mark 14:12-16;22-26
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Over the past four months, the United States has seen a dramatic decrease in new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from the coronavirus which has plagued us for over a year. Simultaneously, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in vaccinations. Over two hundred million people are now at least partially vaccinated, and nearly half the population is fully vaccinated. As the vaccination numbers go up, the virus numbers go down every day.
We know that the vaccine has been effective. Scientific data show that vaccinated persons carry strong antibodies in their blood to fight the virus, and that vaccinated people, if they are infected, do not carry enough viral load to infect other people. With rare exceptions, meaning a less than three one-thousand of a percent chance, fully vaccinated people, even if infected, do not suffer severe disease or death. The point is, the vaccine works and is responsible for getting life increasingly back to normal.
So what does all that have to do with the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate today? I beg your patience to hear me out.
Human persons are not just a physical body. We have a soul as well. While our bodies suffer physical illnesses, our souls experience spiritual illnesses as well. Spiritual illness is called sin. We often think of sin in legal terms, as the violation of some rule for which there ought to be punishment in either this life or the next.
But what if we thought about sin as a disease, something to be treated as such with the objective of healing and recovery? Pope Francis famously said that churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for perfect people. Should not the church be a place of healing?
In addition to healing sick people, competent primary care doctors work to prevent patients from getting sick by encouraging good health habits and prescribing medications that prevent problems, like drugs for high cholesterol and high blood pressure to prevent heart problems. And, not surprisingly, they prescribe vaccines. Children are vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, smallpox, polio, and numerous other diseases. All fifty states mandate these vaccines for school children and they are not the subject of serious controversies like the coronavirus vaccine has become.
Coronavirus, however, has become a serious political football, so much so that even the Democratic administration in the White House and Democratic governors have said that they will not impose vaccination requirements and will not set up a vaccine passport system. Republican governors have gone so far as to not allow private businesses to mandate vaccines for employees and customers.
So where does that leave the church? The traditional realm of the church is spiritual. It deals with spiritual issues and spiritual diseases. Not only does the church heal the spiritual disease of sin, but it also works to prevent it as well through its worship and teaching activities. We Christians are, or at least should be, sacramental people. The sacraments form our relationship with God and with each other. We see the entire universe from a sacramental perspective. The sacraments are an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. All the sacraments heal us from sin, and most importantly, prevent sin.
Chief among the sacraments for the overwhelming majority of Christians is the Eucharist, that is, Holy Communion, which we celebrate here every Sunday. In the Episcopal parish in which I was raised, it is celebrated daily. A few Christians, however, do not consider Holy Communion important. They may celebrate it only once a month or even less. Those folks are the spiritual version of the vaccine hesitancy crowd. And some Christians do not celebrate Communion at all. They are the spiritual equivalent of the antivaxxers. Just as the anti-vaxxers are willfully ignorant of science because it doesn’t fit their narrative of how the world is, some Christians cling to a non-Eucharistic narrative that does not fit their worldview by willfully ignoring the scriptures, history, and tradition of the church. They do so at their spiritual peril, just like the antivaxxers as to the coronavirus vaccine.
One of the principal effects received from the Holy Eucharist at Holy Communion is the intensification and strengthening of supernatural life. Being a sign of nourishment, the Holy Eucharist is meant to do for the soul what material food does for the body, and that is to preserve life and protect it.
As material food enables us to continue living and tends to protect us from fatal disease, so Holy Communion preserves the spiritual life of our souls. Just as we receive medical vaccines to prevent physical diseases, we receive Holy Communion as our spiritual vaccine against spiritual diseases by bolstering our spiritual defenses, just like the covid vaccine against covid.
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of indifference to God and against indifference to our neighbors, that is, living your life in a self-centered orientation where you are the only person that matters.
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of idolatry, that is, placing another person or thing in God’s place.
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of faux spirituality, that is, the tendency to talk, dress and act as we imagine a spiritual person would to mimic spiritual realization in the way that leopard-skin fabric imitates the genuine skin of a leopard.
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of confused motivations. Although our desire to grow as persons is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than others, to be “the one.”
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of spiritual pride. That kind of pride arises when one has actually attained a certain level of wisdom and uses that attainment to justify shutting down to further experience. A feeling of “spiritual superiority” is another symptom of this spiritually transmitted disease. It manifests as a subtle feeling that “I am better, wiser, and above others, because I am spiritual.”
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of Groupthink, that is, a cultic mentality or ashram disease. Group mind is an insidious virus that contains many elements of traditional co-dependence. People infected with “group mind” reject individuals, attitudes, and circumstances that do not conform to the often unwritten rules of the group.
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of The Chosen People complex. That means “Our group is more spiritually evolved, powerful, enlightened and better than any other group.” An important distinction exists between the recognition that one has found the right path, teacher, or community for themselves, and having found God.
Holy Communion is your vaccine against the spiritual disease of the deadly virus called “I Have Arrived”: This disease is so potent that it has the capacity to be terminal and deadly to our spiritual evolution. This is the belief that “I have arrived” at the final goal of the spiritual path. Our spiritual progress ends at the point where this belief becomes crystallized in our psyche, for the moment we begin to believe that we have reached the end of the path, further growth ceases.
So you may ask, how is Holy Communion able to do all that? In Holy Communion, we encounter the divine presence in a very physical way when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus under the form of Bread and Wine. Jesus Himself is our food in Holy Communion. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus are entirely ours as the food of our souls. He is united to us in order to make us like Himself. He said, “I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The sharing of divine life means that God lives in us and we in Him, and that as God the Son has by nature the same life as the Father in its infinite fullness, so do we share it by grace. The underlying message is that when we receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, it doesn’t just pass through us like common food. Holy Communion is beyond ordinary bread and wine. As the Real Physical Presence of Jesus within us, it operates on a mysterious, primordial level. Holy Communion does something to us. That’s why, since I was a little kid, I have always made it my business, come what may, to get myself to Holy Communion every week, and will continue to do so.
I never take any vacation that does not include going to Mass at least once a week. As St. Theresa of Avila tells us, “There is no better help to perfection than frequent Communion.” Let us also not forget Venerable Father John of Avila, who said: “Whoever deters souls from frequent Communion does the work of the devil. Yes; for the devil has a great horror of this sacrament, from which souls derive immense strength to advance in divine love.” Get that. The sacrament of the Eucharist gives us the strength to advance in divine love. There, Father John hits the nail on the head.
Christianity is a religion based on love, a love that begins with God. When we receive Holy Communion, we receive God’s grace, that is, another way of saying, we receive God’s love. As you may recall from the First Epistle of John, God is love, and love is from God. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Vatican Two declared the Eucharist to be, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Although we are Catholic, but not Roman Catholic, on that issue, we are of one heart and mind with Rome.
In the Sacrament of Holy Communion, God offers love freely to all. It’s up to us to accept it. And those who keep others away from it, or try to do so, merit the strongest condemnation. I’m talking about churches that practice closed communion. And I’m talking about clergy that even think about denying Holy Communion to politicians because of disagreements over public policy. Even worse are clergy who tell their people not to receive communion in churches of other denominations. Eucharistic obstructions are simply wrong. No matter what your stand on any public policy issue, God still loves you and wants you to participate in God by receiving Holy Communion whatever your spiritual orientation, and wherever you are. The Altar is the Lord’s table, not ours. Jesus is the host of the Eucharist, not us.
Holy Communion is not a reward for good behavior. It is not a tool to manipulate people. It is definitely not a weapon. Holy Communion is nothing but God’s love, fully and freely offered to all without any expectation in return. Holy Communion is purely non-transactional. It is a meal that God prepares for us to feed on spiritual food. It is a meal in which we remember the death of Jesus, a death he freely accepted because he loved us.
In the very early days of our community, a woman in her seventies named Christine approached me before Mass and told me she had not received Holy Communion in decades because her church, at least on paper, denies Holy Communion to those who have divorced and remarried without a church annulment. This lady had done that four times! Yet out of loyalty to her Church as an institution, she meekly respected its rules and abstained from Holy Communion for over twenty years. How sad!
She asked me if I would give her communion, and I told her, “of course I will. And I encourage you to receive”
When the time came during the Mass came to distribute communion, I noticed that as I placed the host in her hand, she cried tears of joy. The deprivation of Jesus imposed on her by silly church rules and hard-nosed clergy had clearly taken their toll on her. I had never seen such joy on a human face in my entire life. To be there to comfort her with the Body and Blood of Jesus was one of the most meaningful moments of my priesthood.
I saw in Christine the joy of feeling God’s love. God loves us no matter how many marriages and divorces we’ve had. God loves us no matter how much we sin. God loves us no matter what our politics. God loves us no matter what.
Here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, we not only permit everyone to receive Holy Communion, but we also encourage everyone to do so, no matter who you are, or where you’ve been, or what you done, or where you worship, or what your relationship with God is or is not. In Holy Communion here, we dispense God’s freely offered love in the world made flesh by the incarnation of Jesus.
We want everyone to experience the real presence of God’s love inside them. Holy Communion focuses our minds on God, and when our minds are truly and exclusively on God, the Devil cannot invade our conscience and lead us away into the path of evil. Holy Communion is just that, communion, a holy sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ, that vaccinates us against the assaults of the devil.
I will close with a prayer from the Liturgy of the Iona Community, which is an ecumenical monastery on an island near the Scottish coast.
The table of bread and wine is now to be made ready.
It is the table of company with Jesus,
and all who love him.
It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world,
with whom Jesus identified himself.
It is the table of communion with the earth,
in which God became incarnate.
So come to this table,
you who have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a while
you who have tried to follow Jesus,
and you who have failed;
It is Jesus who invites us to meet him here.