The Eucharist and Evangelization
Many of you know that I was blessed to spend my seminary years studying theology in Rome. It was an incredible experience. Part of the blessing of that experience was that our College was situated just one hill over from the Vatican - we were neighbors of the pope! On occasions, we would have the opportunity to attend Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Square - with people from all over the world. The first papal Mass that I attended was the canonization of St. Edith Stein. All of us from the North American College went over to St. Peter's and took our plastic seats in a section off to the left of the steps.
When it came time for Communion, we Americans lined up dutifully, as Sister had taught us long ago, waiting to approach the wooden barricade to receive Jesus. However, in Italy there is no such thing as an orderly line (there is no such thing as a line, for that matter!). As the Eucharistic ministers approached our section, people clambered over each other to get there and receive Communion. Hands were thrust out to receive the Host, and more than one sweet little nun jabbed me in the side with an umbrella! It was, perhaps, the most unholy reception of Communion that I can recall. After that Mass, I decided that I would never go to another papal Mass again. (I did, however, and learned how to reverently negotiate the chaos.)
Later in my seminary career, when I was a deacon and then a priest, I was blessed with the opportunity to help distribute Communion at other papal Masses. We were led by ushers to our posts, and I saw from the other side, those hands reaching out for Jesus. As I was finishing once, and the usher was leading my away, I heard voice call out, "Padre!!" I turned and saw an old woman, almost tearful that she wasn't going to receive; and when I returned to give her the Host, her face lit up with joy - not because she encountered Fr. Austin Murphy, but because she was receiving Jesus.
This is what today's celebration is about: Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ, and that encounter with Jesus that is Holy Communion. When we come forward and receive Jesus on our tongue or in our hand, that is the holiest moment we can imagine. Our demeanor should reflect that holiness. Sometimes, I wonder about folks' disposition when they approach for Communion. We come here to be fed by Jesus - with Jesus.
The Gospel presents us with what is arguably Jesus' most famous miracle - the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. After having taught and healed the people, Jesus is at the end of His day, and the Apostles ask Him to dismiss the crowds so they can eat. "Give them something to eat yourselves," Jesus responds. The disciples immediately begin complaining about their lack of resources: "Five loaves and two fish are all we have." So what does Jesus do? Does He say, "Oh, in that case let's get out of here!"?
He simply accepts the disciples' meager offering, and, as St. Luke tells us, looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd." This is deliberately Eucharistic language. This is exactly what Jesus would do at the Last Supper (as St. Paul points out in the Second Reading today); and it is exactly what I will do momentarily as part of this Mass. Corpus Christi is about recognizing that Jesus is the one who recognizes our limitations, our needs, and He feeds us.
As we continue with our diocesan and parish process of planning for the future and how we are going to evangelize our communities, we might be tempted to complain about our lack of resources (like the Apostles!) - not enough money; not enough volunteers; not enough space; not enough of this; not enough of that. These are the excuses of those who are unaware of Jesus' ability to transform us. When the disciples trusted Jesus and give the little that they had, it was enough. The people there that day did not just get a "sample" of the bread and fish - they did not participate in some "symbolic" action. Rather, they all ate and were satisfied. Moreover, there were twelve wicker baskets of leftovers!
It is no accident that there were twelve. The disciples, who began with just five loaves and two fish to share among themselves, now had an entire basket each!
First and foremost, evangelization is not about more things, more people, and more resources. Instead, it is about a relationship of trust in Jesus, who gives of Himself to feed us, and then calls us to give of ourselves to feed our brothers and sisters so that they can come to know, love, and trust Jesus as well.
Ultimately, we are all like that little old lady in St. Peter's Square who called after me, "Padre!" We are hungering for God. God knows this. That is why He send His only Son into the world; that is why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. Without this beautiful Gift from Jesus, even the most devoted prayer life can wither and die. We will spiritually starve without this Bread from heaven.
Our hunger is real, and Jesus gives the perfect satisfaction for it. Now, we must trust Him, and He will give us the grace and strength to share of ourselves for the good of all.