Sermon for the External Solemnity of Corpus Christi [1 Cor 11:23-29; Jn 6:56-59] - Saint Thomas More, June 6th, 2021.
“Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” (Jn 6:54)
About 1:00 in the morning on the 9th of March Yarrellys Ruiz was driving down Interstate 275, near Tampa. She could see, in her rear view mirror, that a police car was behind her. Suddenly, the unit swerved around her and accelerated. He saw what she didn’t: that she was seconds away from imminent death. In the distance ahead there were headlights - a wrong way driver, speeding toward them at nearly 100 mph. The officer had about 2 seconds to assess the situation before he diverted his SUV into the path of the oncoming vehicle, taking out the threat. The collision, at a combined speed of about 165 mph, killed both the drunk driver and the officer. He was a former Marine, a husband and father, a 16-year veteran of the Tampa Police Department who had earned 7 previous lifesaving awards. His name was Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen, a name worth remembering.
Now, why do I tell such a story as this, on Corpus Christi Sunday, when we are having First Communions? Primarily to illustrate for the children something of the true nature of love, as against the typical stereotype. If we ask the children, “What is love?” they might think of a young couple, walking hand in hand, looking at each other all gooey-eyed, hearts a-palpitating, never wanting to be out of each other’s company . . . you know, like their parents (!) But, no, romantic love, even though it may tend toward true love, doesn’t paint a complete picture.
No, St Thomas gives a better definition: love is willing the good of the other. You see, authentic love is an act of the will. It need not have anything to do with how you feel about someone else. It’s possible to love someone whom you don’t like – Our Blessed Lord told us that we should love even our enemies. You don’t even have to know someone to love her. I’m sure that Officer Madsen did not know Miss Ruiz or anything about her, except that she was a citizen that he was sworn to serve and protect. And yet, he acted with love for her, by sacrificing his own life for hers.
And that ties into another, important point. Almost invariably, authentic love – which we typically call charity – is accompanied by sacrifice of some sort. What is sacrifice? It’s when you give up something that you want or hold dear. Now, this may take the form, for instance, of a parent staying up all night for a sick child – sacrificing her sleep; or someone visiting an elderly person alone at home – thereby sacrificing his time; or a child doing his chores at home on a nice day when she’d prefer to be playing with her dolls or he’d rather be playing soccer. We have another example of sacrifice right here in our sactuary: these two sons of Archbishop Lefebvre, with some 52 years of combined priestly service, having travelled to several continents to preach the Gospel, to administer the sacraments, to save souls.
That said, there is no greater love than the one the flows from the greatest sacrifice. This is as Our Blessed Lord said, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. [And] you are my friends, if you do the things that I command you” (Jn 15:13-14).
Who was He talking about here? Who was laying His life down for His friends? Our Savior spoke these words at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the night before He was to be crucified. He was talking about Himself. And so St John says, “In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).
This is why the Apostles went to the remotest corners of the earth – to witness to this faith at the cost of their lives. This is why legions of martyrs gave up their lives in the Coliseum rather then deny their Lord. This is why the earliest anchorites fled the cities and pleasures of the world in order to given themselves over completely to a contemplation of this Divine Charity. This is whey the confessors traveled to foreign lands to evangelize the pagans.
Furthermore, that same night He instituted the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist – which you children are about to receive for the first time - and the Sacred Priesthood. This is how St Paul describes it, writing to the church in Corinth:
The Lord Jesus, the same night on which he was betrayed, took bread, and, giving thanks, broke it and said, “this is my body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me.” In a like manner the chalice, after he had supped, saying, “this is the chalice of the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of me.” (11:23-25)
What’s happening here at the Last Supper? Our Savior essentially takes the sacrifice on Calvary, which He is to suffer the following day, the most sublime proof of love that has ever been known, and “distills” it (so to speak) into this ritual action which we call the Mass. Then, in telling His first priests, “This do in commemoration of Me,” Our Lord ensures that His unique saving sacrifice, the bloody sacrifice of the Cross, doesn’t merely pass into history, but rather, that at every validly offered Mass for all time, this same sacrifice is made present, though in an unbloody manner.
St. Thomas Aquinas, for his part, expressed amazement:
How inestimable a dignity the divine bounty has bestowed upon us Christians from the treasury of its infinite goodness! . . . For on the altar of the Cross [Christ] immolated to the Father His own body as a victim for our reconciliation and shed His blood both for our ransom and regeneration. And so we were liberated from our wretched state of bondage, washed clean of all our sin. Moreover, in order that a remembrance of such great benefactions may always be with us, He left the faithful His body to be taken as food and his blood as drink, under the appearances of bread and wine.
St Thomas thus confirms the intimate connection between the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross. Whereas it was Our Lord’s historical body that was offered on the Cross, at the Mass, His sacramental Body is offered to the Father under the appearance of bread and wine.
Children, in just a few moments, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, using the voice of this poor human instrument, at the words of consecration, is going to is to become present– fully, truly, in His body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine. And you, for the first time, will receive Him. Many saints have remembered the day of their first Communion, and many have received special graces on that day. I hope that you do, too.
One more thing. This great sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross, this greatest act of charity that the world has ever know, as it is commemorated and perpetuated for us in the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, should mean something to us; it should change us.
To help illustrate that we’ll return to the story we began with. A few weeks later Miss Ruiz (the woman whom Officer Madsen saved), speaking through her tears, said this: “I want to keep his name alive. I want the world to know about him. . . . Now I see life different[ly]. I want to be like he was.”
If this is true of one person giving is life for another, how much more should this be true for us, for whom God has given His Son and who remains with us! This is why we make a procession through the streets after Mass with the Blessed Sacrament. We want the world to know about Our Blessed Lord. And, in all our actions flowing from receiving Holy Communion, we want to be like He was.