June 6, 2010
Corpus Christi. What can be said of Corpus Christi to help everyone see the importance of this day as well as see what and why the Church teaches and believes what it does for this particular feast day?
I am sure most of you here even if you haven’t seen, you have at least heard of the movie Avatar. The story begins around the year2150 something. It appears we humanoids have taken to replacing oil with a whole new source of energy. This energy source is located on some very distant planet. So, it seems the humans have sent a company of explorers, scientists and some form of what we visualize as our modern day U.S. Army and Air Force to this far distant planet.
The story opens with us looking into the life of a disabled Army soldier, apparently injured in a previous conflict. He is now cooperating with this company and its team of scientists. These scientists have been attempting to create a way of communicating and blending in with the life forms on this planet. Obviously, for Hollywood, these life forms are some blue colored, half human, half lion something or other. Through some form of machine, that looks like one of those massaging tubes you see in shopping malls, they are able to take the consciousness of a human and transplant it into some form of mutation that resembles exactly that of the aliens on the planet they have come to. They do this to assimilate into the alien’s lives in the hope of communicating with them and acquiring the energy source they want.
Long story short a conflict begins, but all the while we catch a glimpse into the life of these aliens and how some of the humans finally see and learn the value of life within them.
So, what has all this to do with us today? The movie has many religious overtones to it. It tends to take some New Age, Judaism and Christianity and rolled them into one. So, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. When I look out at society today, I see that we have lost our real direction and purpose. I see how, as the centuries go on, and as modern science takes us into so many technologies, that we have lost the sense of sacred. We have lost the sense of God. We have lost the realization that all of this; the entire world was created by Him and for Him.
When you watch this movie, you see a life of peoples (the aliens in this case), that not only live to survive, but also live for the unknown force that is their life force, much like we do (or should) for God. The whole planet is a life force that lives and breathes with one another, much like we relate in some form to the Holy Spirit. The peoples are the main life, with all the other life around them as support structures that not only sustains them, but lives with them. In the center of all this is a tree that glows and has some form of mystical powers. This reminds me of the earth as God meant it to be and originally created it to be. The Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life.
When things do not go right as the people know it should, the peoples gather around this tree, they join arms and join in some form of what I attribute to being prayer, even if it was a bit rhythmic. Two of the main characters were at a point of death. Both at some point were brought to this tree and all joined in a ritual in hope of bringing their physical forms back to life. One was brought back to life, and the other was not. Much like when we think of prayer; we always get an answer from God, it just that sometimes the answer is yes, and then sometimes it is no.
When the planet was in danger of annihilation, one of the heroes suggested that a request be made of the “Tree of Life” as I am choosing to call it, and see if a miracle would take place. One of the chief spiritualists of the peoples explained to him that the “Tree of Life” did not work that way. In the end, in some odd sort of way the “Tree of Life” communicated to all living beings that they needed to work together to save their planet, and thus they did. So, in the end, the “Tree of Life” did work a miracle.
The significance is two things.
First, and foremost, we have to believe in miracles. When we put our limitations on God and on miracles, then we expect nothing and lose faith. But, we must understand, no matter what limitations we may place on them, miracles can and still do happen. Sometimes, we have to ignore whatever is around us that may be telling us that a miracle will not happen. When the peoples first tried to save one of the lives, the person did not survive. However, that did not discourage them from trying a second time when they tried with the main character, and in this instance, he lived! When, they did not think that the life energy would do anything to help them save their civilization, it did just that.
Second, we can learn that no matter the difference in our various races, nationalities or any other differences we can imagine, we are all in this together and we should make every effort for all of us to cohabitate together in harmony. When the peoples needed the assistance of the “Tree of Life”, they joined together in communion to one another, even with all the differences, and put all their energies and minds into one space and time as one and miracles arose. They help show us that we should find some common ground to be in unity with one another.
We will return to this later, but now let me read a short selection from the book of Genesis. (Read Genesis 14:18-20) We see from ancient times, the priest Melchisedech offering up bread and wine. This is significant simply because we see Jesus do this in the story of the Last Supper. He, with His Apostles, took bread and wine, blessed it and they each ate. Melchisedech’s offering was a prefiguration of what Jesus was to do with His Apostles. It was a very much a prefiguration of what God intended for us to do.
Jesus’ priesthood was not governed by the law, but by linking the offering of bread and wine, showed that Jesus’ priesthood was a prophetic one. Psalm 110 foresees the Messiah as a being a priest not in the line of Aaron, but in the line of Melchisedech.
Over the centuries the Church has pondered over the mystery of the Eucharist. The many theologians through this time humbly acknowledged that human reasoning was limited when probing divine and supernatural. The Church, however, has been able to offer reasonable defense of its doctrine on the Eucharist from the objections that unbelief and heresy has hurled against it. In the modern world, where materialism, scientism, and skepticism seem to reign supreme, the mysterious change that the Church calls Transubstantiation, seems to fall to disbelief.
As human beings, we can choose to change our hair color or styles of hair; we can change careers, addresses of habitation, tastes in interests and any number of various aspects of our lives. However, we do not cease to be the same person we were before these changes. Substance is the permanent underlying characteristic. So, no matter what change we may undertake, we are still the same person underneath it all. We may change ideals and even personalities, but we are never going to be anyone other than who we were created to be by God.
Why is this important? When one is to read or hear an explanation of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, they may encounter the use of the word “substance”. Such as, the substance of the bread and wine remain the same, but it becomes a “host” for the life and breath of Christ. The Body and Blood of Christ. The term “substance” came into play when the Council of Nicea defended the Divinity of Jesus, when it stated that Jesus was of the same substance as God, yet still the second person of the Trinity known as the Son. So, in simplistic terms, one can be two things and yet still be of one being.
To understand why the church uses the term, Transubstantiation for the miracle that occurs at the moment of consecration, two truths are presupposed: first, that the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ, and second, as a necessary counterpart, that the bread and wine really change into the body and blood. Both of these truths are taught in Scripture, namely the Gospels. The Latin term Transubstantiation appeared first in the late eleventh century and then became Church teaching during the Fourth Lateran Council in the thirteenth century.
Pope Urban IV was overwhelmed with a miracle in Bolsena. A Priest who had doubts about the real presence of Christ in the hosts of bread and wine, saw a host change before his very eyes into a bit of bloody flesh that left stains on corporal. Hence, Pope Urban extended the feast to the world wide Church. Further, in the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent, in an effort to oppose the heresies of the Reformers of the time, restated the doctrine.
Now, the substances of the bread and wine (or in our case, wafers and grape juice), would seem to indicate to our brains that they are nothing more than bread and wine. The color, taste and smell of the bread and wine, tell our brains that they are indeed thus. Transubstantiation is rightly called miraculous, that is, altogether outside of the ordinary course of nature, because in this mysterious conversion, the substances of the bread and wine continue to remain, while the inner substance, the essential reality, comes to be entirely different.
The Church teaches that at the very moment the effectual words of our Lord are spoken by His minister, the entire substance of bread is changed into the Body of Christ and the entire substance of wine is changed into the Blood of Christ. Bread and wine cease to exist and the full reality of Christ comes to be present under their appearances.
It is a marvel to behold, of the means chosen by our Lord. Bread and wine are evident sources of nourishment for the body, thus perfectly symbolizing the spiritual nourishment the soul receives in Holy Communion, and the lingering substances of these foods permit the communicant to receive the true flesh and blood of Our Lord, and thus His soul and divinity, unbloody, in a manner well suited to us and our powers. Obviously, civilized humanity does not partake of cannibalism, thus the Lord willed that the Eucharist be given in a substance our senses would readily accept without repulsiveness.
Thus, while the human body transforms ordinary food into its own substance, in receiving Christ Worthily, it is we who, bathed in His grace, are transformed by degree into His image and likeness. It is therefore, why the Church places so much importance on attending Mass and participating in the Eucharistic miracles, fore we really and truly take within ourselves the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ. His full divinity is given to us, to sustain us as the week goes by and to fill us with His grace and power. This tends to provoke an euphemism that “you are what you eat”.
Through the words of consecration, the bread and wine are no longer thus, but now the Body and Blood of Christ. They are the living flesh and blood of the risen Lord in heaven, and thus contains His Body, Soul, and Divinity and are inseparable. It is because of this, that what hosts remain after we have partaken Communion, are placed in a tabernacle to safe guard, fore they remain our real Lord Christ. So, when we genuflect and make the sign of the cross before the tabernacle, we are not doing so to a lifeless box and table, but to a true and divine God, hidden behind a tabernacle in the substances of bread and wine.
We exercise the supernatural virtue of faith to accept the mysteries of our holy religion (such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the virgin birth, the Resurrection), and take them as word value, so we must exercise this virtue above all when worshipping and approaching our God hidden under the humble appearances of bread and wine. As our Blessed Lord said to St. Thomas: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe…”! And so, in every Mass, our Lord says the same to you, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe”.
Scientists or philosophical people could argue that a substance cannot change without its appearances also changing. We must not limit God in His omnipotence. God, in His all powerful nature, who created all that we see, feel, and smell, can also cause characteristics of one item to remain, while the characteristics of another joins the first. That He can do so, should not be so difficult to accept when we consider that God, in creating the world, the Angels, and each human soul, brings forth being or life out of nothing; an act that surpasses every miracle.
1 Corinthians, shows us that although many (and in many lands at the same time) Jesus Himself is received by all Christians at all times in all places. As with a telephone call, a speaker is present to someone far away as well as to the other, even over time zones, so is Jesus present to all, at all times, in a multipresence and multilocation. Christ gives mankind bread to eat, a sign both of the Eucharist and of the messianic banquet. He is the eternal High Priest, and the Eucharist perpetuates the exercise of His Priesthood under the signs of bread and wine.
The disbelief and hostility that some modern people, especially among non-Catholics, is really a poor rejection of the existence of God or the very possibility of miracles. The disbelief that a miracle is taking place at the hands of the Priest of the Mass, at which he states the words of consecration and thus Christ works through this said Priest as an instrument, a power to which a Priest is given special access to through the Sacrament of Ordination, does not make it any less a miracle.
Here is where we circle back to the movie Avatar. We see in the real world that we live in, that there are many separations of religions. Which is the true church? Which is the true religion? Who teaches the truth as God put forth and desires? Only faith can answer these questions. In our branch of the Catholic Church, we do not formally discuss or teach the belief that we are the one true Church. The Church of Rome does. As part of this heritage, we naturally agree that we are part of that Church started by Jesus with the Apostles. We do understand the theology that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus created. However, we do not insist in this belief upon the people, as that of Rome would.
But, my reason for bringing up this topic today, while we discuss Corpus Christi, and mingle Avatar with it is this – The Church of Rome, as many of you know, will not allow non-Catholics or non-believers to come forward for Communion. There is some good theology to this that I do not discount, even if as a church, we do not formally agree. The belief is something that modern society is suffering with, unbeknownst to most people.
We have lost the sense of communion with one another. We have lost the sense of communion with the Church. We have lost the sense of obligation to Church; the worshipping of God! The ideal here is that if we come forward for communion, we are coming forward in unity with one another; that we are in agreement with one another. This is where the final comparison of Avatar arrives. The peoples of the planet still knew and celebrated unity. We have lost that unity.
Now, I do not propose that we suddenly join all churches into one monopoly of a church. As a denomination known as Universal Catholic, we do understand the need for unity; we also know that coming forward to Communion to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus does signify this unity. We simply believe that although we may disagree on the fundamentals of some theology, and certainly on the real presence in the Eucharist, we still understand that we are all Christians or spiritual people seeking the Divine, and thus in some form of unity, even if a bit defective.
Therefore, our official teaching on the Eucharist matches exactly that of our Roman brothers and sisters. The only point we depart, is that we open our altars to all mankind to come to our altars in respect and reverence, and hopefully not in a state of mortal sin for adults; and being 7 years of age and baptized for children.
So, as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, know that a simple sermon cannot possibly discuss all there is to know about the Eucharist, but we can come away with a new found faith that as we partake of it, we are really receiving our Blessed Lord within ourselves. When we do this in faith, we will receive many graces and blessings. It is not some magic, but a supernatural grace of becoming more like Christ in our way of life.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.