Corpus Christi 2016
Corpus Christi 2016
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
I love to eat! (Big surprise, uh?) And I love to cook. But since I joined the Order in 1999, I haven't had many opportunities to cook. Everywhere I've lived in the Order, we've had someone to cook for us. One exception: during my time at Blackfriars Hall at Oxford U. the brothers took turns cooking. I loved it b/c I got to show off my southern cooking skills – fried chicken, baked pork chops, garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread. The last time I was up to cook for the 23 of us in the house, I chose to go out with an American bang – hamburgers, fries, and cole slaw. I've never seen a bunch of Brits so excited about a meal! To this day, some 12 yrs after that American blow-out, my Blackfriars brothers remember my burgers. And even the friars who joined up recently – have never even met me – know me as the Burger King! That is the power of food. That's the power of good food. . .a truth all the good citizens of New Orleans know from birth. If food this side of heaven can form the foundation of our memories, what can the Food of Heaven do for us? The Food of Heaven – the Body and Blood of Christ – can get us into heaven! But before we are ready for heaven, we have some holy work to do down here.
And helping us with our holy work is part of what the Body and Blood of Christ does. Jesus tells his disciples at one point, “You can do nothing w/o me.” He also promises them (and us), “I will be with you always.” We know that after he ascends to the Father and sends his Holy Spirit among us, Christ remains with us always in the Body of his Church – that's us. And like any hardworking body, we need good food and good drink to stay alive and working. Not just any old hamburger and diet cola will do! If we are to do the holy work we've been given to do, then we need holy food and holy drink. We need the Body and Blood of Christ to keep us alive and working. And so, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I handed on to you what I received from the Lord.” He then recounts what he received from the Lord – the institution of the Eucharist, the bread and the cup, ending with, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Every time you eat his Body and drink his Blood, you celebrate the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus, and you do so until he comes again. That celebration, that proclamation of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension is the source of our strength to do holy work.
When we take into ourselves his Body and Blood, we come closer to being who and what Christ himself is. My job for me is to become as much like Christ as I can this side of heaven. Your job for you is to become as much like Christ as you can this side of heaven. Why do we need to become like Christ? I need to become as much like Christ as I can so I can help you become as much like Christ as you can. I help you as a priest. You help me to become more like Christ as faithful lay men and women. We help one another according to our individual gifts, but we are all working on the same holy work: becoming Christs for one another. To be clear here: we are not just imitating Jesus to be good examples for one another. By worthily receiving his Body and Blood, we are made Christs for one another. Around 350 A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem*, addresses a group of people who were just baptized and confirmed. He says to them: “. . .having therefore become partakers of Christ you are properly called Christs. . .because you are images of Christ.” We are partakers of Christ in baptism, confirmation and, most especially, in the Eucharist; therefore, we are images of Christ and properly called Christs.
Now, I mentioned earlier that good food makes for good memories. In my family, no event of any significance goes without a meal. We say, “When two or more Powell's are gathered together, there is a pecan pie.” I remember the big pots of seafood stew I made for my novitiate classmates. I remember the 20 course meal we made to celebrate the turn of the millennium. I remember the Memphis ribs we served at my priestly ordination. And in about three days I gonna remember my mama's fried chicken in Byhalia, MS! Like I said, I like to eat. But I don't eat to remember. Remembering just comes along for the gastronomical ride. Jesus tells us to eat and drink to remember him. Not just to recall him in memory, but to re-member. . .to make us once again a member of his Body. To strengthen our attachment to his Body. To reinforce our belonging to his ministry. There's no magic to this remembrance. He says do it, and so we do. He says that the bread and wine are his Body and Blood, and so they are. He is made present in the sacrament. We eat and we drink. And grow just that much closer to him. We become just that much more like him.
The solemnity of Corpus Christi sharpens our focus on the vitality and necessity of the Eucharist to our growth in holiness. Without it, we can do nothing. Without it, we cannot thrive as followers of Christ. He is our food and drink, our life and our love. For the Eucharist, we need priests. Chicken won't fry itself. And gumbo don't grow on trees. Simply put: no priests, no Eucharist. I will end with a challenge: once a week, once a month find a chapel of perpetual adoration – we have one at St. Dominic's, there's another at St. Catherine of Siena. While in the presence of the sacramental Christ, pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Specifically, pray that the men God has called to priesthood will find the courage to say Yes to that call. Pray that the men and women called to religious life will say Yes to their call. Many bishops and vocation directors in this country have testified to the power of Eucharistic Adoration to send them men for the priesthood, and men and women for religious life. We will have 136 seminarians at NDS next year. Men from about 18 dioceses and 4 religious orders. We need ten times that many for several more decades to meet the needs of Catholics in the South.
Jesus took five fish and two loaves and fed 5,000. Everyday priests all over the world take bread and wine and feed millions the Body and Blood of Christ. The strength of his Body on earth and the doing of our holy work depend on the Eucharistic Christ.
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