14 April 2016

Our transubstantiation into Christ

NB. A Vintage Fr Philip homily from 2007. . .ah, the memories. . .

3rd Week of Easter (F)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Irving, TX

SECRET DOOMSDAY CULT CANNIBALIZES EXECUTED MESSIAH, CLAIMS IMMORTALITY! The talking-head TV version of this newspaper headline opens with this talking-point: “Religious fanaticism in America today: are your children safe?” Then the talking-heads parade a line of Three-ring Circus Clowns who all demand that the Supreme Court ban religion as a public-safety hazard. The state-owned regulatory nannies and ninnies start squawking like geese frightened on a pond by a gator and before you know it Congress is holding hearings during which otherwise intelligent men and women are asking asinine questions like: “But Bishop, with all due respect, given the recent scandals of the Church, is there a way to tone down your body and blood rhetoric here?” 

Maybe we can forgive the routine ignorance of the media and its oftentimes sensationalistic and even hostile portrayal of religious folks, especially Christians in the U.S. Our faith is not easily understood even by those who have been initiated into it and strive with God’s grace to live it day-to-day! And surely we can forgive those in the Church who would have us curb the enthusiasm of Christ’s Eucharistic teaching in today’s gospel. I mean, are we really helping ecumenical efforts at the international and national level by insisting on all this blood and guts imagery? Wouldn’t it be better to focus rather on the more genteel and less violent imagery of bread and wine? These are great symbols of earth and home and harmony and human work. Besides bread and wine helps to keep us focused “down here” on the domestic community rather than “up there” on an inaccessible Big Scary Father-God. Aren’t we here really just to learn to live together and help each other and be at peace with the environment? 

No. No, we’re not. We’re here to be saved. We’re here to find the Way and walk it. We’re here to eat the body of Christ, to drink his blood and to share more and more intimately in the workings of the Blessed Trinity in human history. We are here…more literally…”to gnaw” on Christ. Not to nibble daintily or to consume politely but “to gnaw.” That’s the Greek. Gnaw. Now, let me see you gnaw symbolically. For that matter, let me see you gnaw a symbol. Let me see you gnaw on a memory, a memorial, a representation. Let me see you gnaw on an eschatological sign, a prophetic image, a metaphor for “making-present things past.” 

The quarreling Jews may have understood better then than we do sometimes now: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This question actually belies substantial understanding! They understood Jesus to say “flesh.” Meat. Body. And blood. True food and true drink. Not mere symbols. Not just memorial signs. Not mere representational action in history. Not just an “absence of forgetting.” Real food, real drink for eternal life. And this is why they are shocked to hear Jesus teaching what can only be called cannibalism. I don’t think Jesus eases their fears any in the explanation of his baffling claim: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him…the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” This is astonishingly clear and simple. And outrageously scandalous! 

From the beginning we have had immediate access to Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. His real flesh and real blood. We will not eat the bread of our ancestors this morning. We will eat the bread of life from the banquet table of the Father. We will eat…we will gnaw!...as children, heirs, as a people loved, we will feast on immortality so that we may become him whom we eat. There is no other reason for us to be here this morning than this: our transubstantiation into Christ. Just ask Paul: we will not all die, but we will all be changed!

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