This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Some of you will remember this celebration by its Latin name, “Corpus Christi.” Maybe you recall Corpus Christi processions at your parish and even through your neighborhoods.
On this feast, we take time to reflect upon something that we Catholics do together so often: the celebration of the Eucharist. Whether we are actively present in a parish community or home-bound, this feast is an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to God for the gift of this sacrament, which unites us to Christ and to one another. As Saint Paul expresses it in the second reading for this Sunday, the cup of blessing that we bless is a sharing in the blood of Christ and the bread broken is a sharing in the body of Christ.
Some years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late Archbishop of Chicago, wrote a pastoral letter about the Eucharist. He said that it is in the Eucharist that we discover who we are and whose we are. Our core identity as Catholic Christians is remembered and expressed every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We identify ourselves as followers of Jesus, the one who in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is named the bread of life. As we pray with God’s Word, profess the creed, tell the story of God’s redemptive love, and (if possible) receive Christ’s gift of himself to us in communion, our identity as followers of the Lord is strengthened.
The statement from Cardinal Bernardin links discovering who we are with knowing whose we are. We are those who belong to God in Christ. We are God’s holy people. We are holy not because we are perfect but because we belong to the holy God. We are God’s own, embraced by God’s faithful and merciful love. Our identity is inseparably connected with our belonging to God in and through Christ. As we hear in the Gospel for this feast, we profess that Christ himself is the bread of life, the one in whom we find life now and for eternity.
There are many people and forces in the world that try to dictate to us the kind of person we should be. The challenge for us is to learn to live in a way that expresses our true identity as disciples of Jesus, as those who are God’s own. We celebrate the Eucharist faithfully so that we may remember who we are as followers of Jesus and reflect God’s love to others.
Some of you know that recently Sheila Mclaughlin, who was the director of CTU’s Bernardin Center for 16 years, died after a long illness. Sheila served as the director of the Office of Worship of the Archdiocese of Chicago, appointed by Cardinal Bernardin. Then she came to CTU to head up the center named after the Cardinal. I worked closely with Sheila, especially on a program for young adults. Sheila knew how to plan a celebration of the Eucharist that was dignified, inclusive and exquisite in its beauty. It is appropriate that she will buried this week, near the feast of Corpus Christi. May she rest in peace in the eternal presence of the One who said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Robin Ryan, cp
Professor of Systematic Theology