Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – at one time called Corpus Christi and originally celebrated on the Thursday, 10 days after Pentecost. Some of us of a certain generation may remember huge Corpus Christi processions which brought the body of Christ into the streets around our parishes. Many of the faithful would pay visits to three different churches to attend Benediction services. Today we still bring the body of Christ into our streets because we are there.
A little history about the feast: In the 13th century, a Belgian nun named Juliana had a recurring dream of a brilliant full moon coming down to earth but with a black spot on it. Christ interpreted it for her in that the moon represented the calendar year of the church with all of its wonderful festivals, but the black spot showed that there was something missing, an occasion to remember the institution by Christ at the Lord’s Supper – the institution of the Eucharist. As fortune would have it, she had a friend in the Bishop of Liege. He believed her vision and he subsequently became Pope Urban IV. As a result, the feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated in 1264 with hymns and prayers written by Thomas Aquinas. Such an awesome gift deserves its own feast!
This crowd that Jesus is speaking to in the Gospel had made a pilgrimage to see him instead of going to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. It would have been easier to go to the nearby city, but something was drawing them to the great teacher. Walking was their mode of transportation, and the distances were often across rough terrain or long detours around lakes. Jesus and his apostles may have rowed across the lake but not all his followers found a ferry. And in case you’re intrigued with numbers, someone has calculated that Jesus in his 3-year public ministry could have walked over 900 miles.
Meanwhile, the crowd wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their king. In other words, Jesus is speaking to a crowd that has felt the pangs of deep longing for something much more than physical hunger. They had glimpsed the possibilities of true satisfaction in Jesus. But they have misplaced the object of their yearning on “king,” when Jesus wants them to see that their true longing is for “living bread”. Today, our Gospel writer, John, wants us to see that our real longing is not for things that pass away but for things that endure, for an imperishable Light. But, remember when Jesus is speaking it is before the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Not even His closest apostles could have realized the full significance of His words. Abbot Primate Notker Wolf has written “In times of individualism we need new ways to build a modern consciousness of community which revolves around the Eucharist as the central celebration of faith.”
The bottom line is that people are scrambling like crazy to find a diet that is right for them. And there is a such diet we hear too little about. It’s the diet presented in today’s gospel. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” And He gives us His word that people on His program “will never hunger or thirst again!” This is an extravagant claim! But Jesus can deliver on what he promises!
~Sister Roberta Basiley, OSB