Eucharist is a Verb, not a Noun
What we do at Mass is really quite simple. Three things. We GATHER the folks. We TELL the story. We BREAK the bread. The first movement is basic and fundamental, we gather. As soon as we make our way into church the Eucharist begins because as I mentioned last week, Jesus told us that “whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” We then tell the story of our faith through the Sacred Scriptures, the Word of God. It is the homilist’s job to connect the ancient story of our faith with our contemporary lived experience. No easy task that. And finally, we break the bread. We share the meal that Jesus connected to his sacrifice on the Cross, and in doing so, we recognize Him, just as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus.
It is this last movement that I would like to focus on this weekend, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
Whenever you hear these four words in the Scriptures: take, bless, break and give, you know that the Spirit has something to teach us about what we do every weekend at Sunday Mass. It is, in effect, the movement of our lives as Catholic Chris- tians. Let’s break it down.
The first thing we do is take. That sounds selfish. It’s not. I don’t know a lot of Latin, but I do know one striking Latin phrase: Nemo dat quod non habat. (You have to admit, things sound cooler in Latin.) It literally means, you cannot give what you do not have. I may want to give you an expen- sive gift to show my love, but if I have no money in the bank, it is not going to happen. One of the fiercest arguments I ever got into with a student was over this idea. I suggested to her that if you don’t accept yourself (self-acceptance is not the same as phony self-esteem), if you don’t feel the love of God in your life, if you don’t have a basic appreciation of your- self as a child of God, you simply cannot love another person. That sounds harsh, but how can you give someone love when you don’t understand it in your own life? On a spiritual level, we have to accept the forgiveness of God, the grace of God, the life of God before we can dare to share it with others. The first movement of the Eucharist is to take.
What does it mean when someone asks a priest to bless something or someone? I think we have a notion that some- where in Father’s arm there is an energy which travels down into his palm and emanates out of his hand into a person or an object, irradiating it with grace. Not quite. Blessing is simpler, less radioactive. When we bless a person or an object, we PRAISE and THANK God for that person or thing. We recognize the goodness, the grace, the life that is already there. And in doing so, we remind ourselves of the great gift in our midst that we have received (see TAKE above). When I taught this in class, I would invite a student to come forward to be blessed. After asking his or her class- mates what they thought about their friend, I would fashion a prayer of thanks based on their responses. The student nor- mally would look a bit sheepish and a tad embarrassed.
When I finished, I would ask them how they felt. Every single student would look up at me beaming with a wide smile and say: That was great!! By naming and recognizing the grace of God already there, we reinforce and bolster that goodness in their hearts. Every night before I went to bed when I was a child, I would go and get blessed by my father (it’s not just for priests!). I knew that I could go off to bed in peace after that simple prayer. And you know what? I can still feel that blessing in my heart even today, many decades after the fact.
We would normally think that being broken is a liability, a handicap, a negative in our lives. There would not be any- thing advantageous or beneficial to it. But a basic rule of life is that for us to find life, something has to die. For something to be shared, it needs to be broken. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate example of it. But pay attention to your own experience and you will discover that this is true. When I was teaching, the little brother of one of our Borgia students, a fifth grader, died suddenly of a heart attack on the playground at his school. It was a horrible shock. His sister, a Sophomore in high school at the time, was shattered by the loss. He was her only sibling. Just a few years before that, my little sister succumbed to her cancer and died at 38. Although it wasn’t exactly the same, we shared a similar experience, a similar brokenness. We had a younger sibling who died too young. The upside is that this shared experience created a deep bond between us. Later on, I was privileged to preside at her wedding and the joy of that particular day helped mend her heart. But that may not have happened had not the both of us been broken by life. “Break” is the hardest of the four movements of the Eucharist, painful and difficult. But if you have an open soul, if you have a vision of hope, it can be amazing.
I feel very sorry for selfish people, people who need to take and take and take and take. They will never know the sub- lime and ultimate pleasure in life that comes from generosity and giving. It is the supreme act in human existence. If you don’t believe me, next Christmas watch a parent as their child opens a gift box. Watch a young man as he offers an engage- ment ring to his beloved. I would like to think that Marcia Carrigan was beaming and laughing in heaven with the saints when I opened the mail and found out how much she had given to Holy Redeemer. I enjoy picking up the check for a meal when I go out with my friends. It is better to give than to receive and our whole religion is centered around that action. The Sacred Scriptures proudly pro- claim: What you have received as a gift, give as a gift. There is no better feeling. Generous people live longer, are happier and more fulfilled.
Take, Bless, Break and Give.
That’s why the Eucharist is the source and the summit of our lives as Christians.
Happy Corpus Christi!!