In countries where the great feast of Corpus Christi is moved to the Sunday, as in Ireland, the Gospel is taken from Luke 9:11-17.
The first line that struck me is “Send the crowd away […] for we are here in a lonely place” (Luk 9:12 RSV). It is not because it is specifically striking on itself, but because it is often used in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke when Jesus is going to a place to be alone with God. Strictly speaking the word (ἔρημος) means ‘dessert place’ or ‘uninhabited place’, and it is clear that it is not a ‘lonely place’ in the strict sense as “there were about five thousand men” (Luk 9:14 RSV).
But as it unfolds it might maybe not be a silent place Jesus often went to in order to pray to the Father, it became defiantly a place of an intimate encounter with God. It is an ‘ordinary’ encounter, as it is an ordinary setting and it involves basic human needs as bread and fish. But it it is also an extraordinary encounter, both because Jesus miraculously multiplies the five loaves and two fish, apparently without anybody being initially consciously aware of it, but also because it foreshadows the extraordinary encounter being made available to us by the Holy Eucharist.
This feast invites us to meditate on the gift that is given to us. Not a gift in the usual sense in the way that it is given and changes hands from one person to another, but from the point that it is the gift of the invitation of communion with God. God invites us to become part of Him as He becomes part of us when we receive the body and blood of Christ : “for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Joh 6:55 RSV).
When we receive the bread and wine which really have become the Lords body and blood during the consecration by the priest at mass we really receive Jesus!
It seems to me that there can be no real doubt about that, that we really receive His body and blood. Jesus was clear about it, and there can in my eyes be no real ambiguity. For example, why did Jesus let so many go away when “many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”” (Joh 6:60 RSV), and subsequent “many […] drew back and no longer went about with him” (Joh 6:66 RSV). If it was only a symbolic gesture, why did He not call after them and explain them that he did not mean it literally? No instead he asked the twelve “Do you also wish to go away?” (Joh 6:67 RSV), and with Simon Peter we utter the only right answer “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;” (Joh 6:68 RSV)
That part of of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel is very rich, and worth meditating on over and over again, especially in combination with the Gospel of today and this feast of Corpus Christi. It will again en-kindle the fire within us and realise that Mass should always be the most important moment of our week, or of our day. It can be very easy to make a habit out of going to Mass and to get lukewarm about it, but that is why we have to focus ourselves at every celebration of the Eucharist on this extraordinary gift of God, in which he gives himself fully and truly to us. The absence of a direct sensual experience does not mean there is nothing spiritual happening!
I think it is important never to grow cold, but always to keep our eyes focussed on the real reality which so many people thing to be unreal. God is with us, and wants to live with us. He comes down to us and awaits our consent to abide with us. He always invites us to communion with Him, and we only have to accept this invitation to be with Him.
Finally, where this can still be very superficial in some peoples eyes, I again want to stress the reality of it as well. As I often try to say, our relation with God is a reality, not some idealism. Knowing God, and being in communion with Him, faithfully and fully receiving Him, makes a real difference in our lives. As I have often tried to express on this blog, this encounter most of the time is not apparent in our direct experience, but it is on the long term.
As I posted last week, I was home in the Netherlands for a week, which means I cannot get daily mass and my usual prayers are reduced near to the minimum I have to do as a Dominican brother. What do I notice? That I love the time at home, and love to be with my family. That the time goes very quick and that I would love to stay longer. But at the same time, after a few days of absence of daily mass and significant time of prayer I become aware of a desire that seems to penetrate everything. It is the awareness and yearning for something more, and it seems clear that something is missing, a grounding and source of life which seems to have dried up, a completeness which is lost which manifests itself in some-kind of unrest or maybe even uneasiness…
This is an experience I have every-time when I take ‘a break’ from God, and for me it shows and reminds me that it is real! And as it is real, we should always treasure it, and keep focused on it. The gift is given to us! The Gospel of Corpus Christi closes with “all ate and were satisfied” (Luk 9:17 RSV) and there was plenty left over… it is only in the Lord that true happiness is found!