Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, formerly more commonly known as Corpus Christi.
This feast celebrates that part of the Eucharist (Mass) known as Holy Communion or the Blessed Sacrament.
In Catholic Christian teaching, ordained bishops and priests, while celebrating Eucharist (Mass), ask God the Father to send down God the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. And, God does that very thing. Though the consecrated elements continue to have the same look and qualities, their essence has changed into Jesus’ actual body and blood.
In today’s Gospel reading from St. John, we hear Jesus say, “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” (John 6: 51).
Priests and bishops celebrate the Eucharist to follow the command that Jesus gave the apostles – which Catholic Christians see as the first bishops of the Church – to continue celebrating this one Mass.
For over 2,000 years, now, Catholic Christians have treasured the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, in many parts of the world at various points in history, to be a Catholic priest was against the law, and celebrating Mass was a crime. Thus, many priests were martyred while celebrating Eucharist.
Before looking at our Scripture passages more closely, let’s look at the following story by Tom R. Kovach called “The Garden Guard.”
Joseph and Mary, Hungarian immigrants to the United States, were parents of eight children. They depended on a huge vegetable garden they had to feed their family. Mary canned much of the produce for the winter months, and Joseph often sold some of the potatoes and cabbage to the local schools and stores. Joseph and Mary’s garden was the joy of the neighborhood.
One summer, however, the family discovered that someone had been stealing vegetables from the garden. Mary and Joseph were quite surprised, because they would have gladly given vegetables free to anyone who could not afford them.
Then one of the neighbors spotted an old bachelor who lived a short distance away selling some vegetables in a nearby town. It didn’t take Joseph and Mary long to figure out that the old man, Benny, was the thief. Benny had no steady job and lived in a small, bleak cabin. Joseph and Mary figured out Benny had been stealing the vegetables to earn a few extra dollars.
To solve the problem, Joseph decided to hire Benny to guard the garden. Mary was astonished and said, “That’s like hiring a fox to guard the henhouse!”
Joseph, however, stuck to his plans. Joseph met with Benny and told him that someone had been stealing his vegetables – “probably kids,” he said. Joseph asked Benny to spend his nights guarding the garden. Naturally, Benny would be eating dinner each evening with the family, and that was indeed a treat, for Mary’s cooking was legendary for its excellence. Therefore, Benny agreed.
So, Benny did indeed spend each night guarding the garden’s shed. Actually, he slept all night. But because he had been the thief, and because there was no way he would take any vegetables from the garden now that he was being paid, there were no more thefts. In the mornings, the family insisted that Benny join them for a hearty country breakfast.
Soon, Benny became interested in the garden and would ask many questions about gardening. In time, Joseph volunteered to dig up a plot of land for a garden by Benny’s cabin. Then, when the next spring came, Benny planted pumpkins, peas, corn, beans, potatoes, and many other types of vegetables. In time, Benny had one of the most beautiful and prolific gardens in town. And from the garden, he produced not only food to eat, but he also grew a new sense of purpose and self respect. Needless to say, Joseph and Mary never had to worry about anyone stealing from their garden.
Like Joseph in our garden story of today, God is wise. God knew that without his help, humans could and did easily fail. Therefore, in his infinite wisdom and love and compassion, God the Father sent his Son in the form of Jesus Christ to be our savior. This savior, often simply known as “the Word” or “Christ,” was a teacher who showed us how to be holy people. He did this not only by words, but also by actions.
God knew, however, that Jesus in his physical body would not always be with humanity. Therefore, God allowed the miracle of the Eucharist and Blessed Sacrament to be born. Thus, every time Eucharist is celebrated, the Blessed Sacrament is produced. Jesus himself dwells among us, not solely in a memory, but physically, intimately, in total love.
And when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus into our bodies, we are supposed to become more like him. Could there ever be a more awesome love story than that? Could there ever be a wilder, more exalted belief system than that? How incredibly blessed we are, as Catholic Christians, to have been given this beautiful gift of Jesus himself in the Blessed Sacrament. May we always be thankful, and may we always treasure this gift.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, 2017.
Story source: Tom R. Kovach. “The Garden Guard.” In Jack Canfield, Mark Victor
Hansen, and Amy Newmark (Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wisdom of Dads, Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing Company, 2008, pp. 213-215.