The Body & Blood of the Lord

Some time ago, I would enjoy watching CSI on TV. Crime Scene Investigation. It’s in syndication now, all 15 seasons. Funny how when Hollywood discovers what they think is a winning formula, they will flood the market with so much of it. Prequels and sequels and spin-offs, oh my! The original formula gets old eventually. Characters come and go. Actors move on to bigger and better things. Story lines get convoluted, overdramatic, even ridiculous. But occasionally I will watch the earlier seasons of the original, when characters and story lines were fresh and uncomplicated. But some time ago before the lights on the Vegas strip faded with the mounting body count, before the plotlines blended into the evening news, before my blissful ignorance tripped into the cesspools of moral depravity, and before Ted Danson had a career after Cheers, I was fascinated by the grim stories they wove. Mostly they collected and analyzed physical evidence that revealed sad truths. Verbal evidence was seldom considered reliable. To them, forensic evidence held the key. I get where they wanted to take us. But the truth is always more than what science has to offer. That’s why even physical evidence must be analyzed and interpreted. We know the saying, actions speak louder than words. But we still need to explore motive and historical context. Otherwise physical evidence unfairly gets all the attention.

When I want to know a person’s values and beliefs, I need to listen to what they have to say, observe their behavior closely, examine where a good chunk of their time, energy, and disposable income go. Words and actions may be at odds at times. So I find other signs. I put myself in their shoes, take their perspective, listen with their ears. I avoid jumping to conclusions. Ultimately, a conclusion is still a guess, at best, what I understand from the outside looking in. But to know and defend my own values and beliefs, I require an honest self-examination. Two people alone will know the truth about me—myself and God. And if I’m honest, nothing I uncover will be news to me.

On this Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, I invite us to examine our thinking and our behavior, especially in church. The Eucharistic mystery we celebrate extends beyond knowing the meaning of theological terms. What we value and believe about the Eucharist will emerge in our words and actions toward God and one another. Everything we believe about the nature and beauty of this most Holy Sacrament we can find in the Catechism and many papal documents. We need to explore the implications of our beliefs on our way of life. And we probably should admit right off the bat that we will never fully grasp the immensity of this mystery. But we should examine what we say and do. If we are honest and open to conversion, we will discover exactly where we need a more vigorous and intentional effort to truly live what we believe.

The passage from Exodus is the account of Moses offering holocausts to the Lord after delivering the Law to Israel he had just received on Mt. Sinai. This had not been done before, ever. So the account is full of interesting detail, and becomes the pattern for temple sacrifices for years to come. The account of Jesus’ last meal with his apostles the night before his passion is for Christians proof of the institution of the Eucharist. It becomes the pattern for the church’s liturgy from then on. Despite some additions and adjustments, we believe the essentials remain. 2000 years later, even the Holy Eucharist is no longer exciting and new, and many of us are no longer paying close attention.

When we come to church, we might first visit with each other. Then we find our spot and spend a moment in quiet prayer, acknowledging that this place has value and meaning for us. It still amuses me that we fill up church from the back pew. It’s not a Catholic thing. Most churches I know joke about it. And I understand why this happens in concert halls and sports stadiums and Broadway theatres. The cheap seats always fill up first. But we come to hear God’s life-giving Word and celebrate God’s wondrous presence in the Holy Eucharist. And still people who arrive early and have a choice will rush to where they can be as far away as possible from that which they presumably came for. I am amused. The gospels tell us that the crowds in Jesus’ time were always in his face and at his heels. I know they had no sound system, no large screen TVs to live-cast what was happening up front. And Jesus was a celebrity. He would feed them lunch, and heal their sick. We don’t do any of that today. When I attended a few papal masses in Rome, I was appalled that nuns in full religious habit would shamelessly inch their way forward and squeeze through any gap to get closer to the Holy Father. I thought that was a bit much. I’m not being mean, not forcing anyone to change. No matter what I say, people will still do as they please. What I ask is that we stop to think about why we do what we do. Do our actions accurately proclaim what we believe?

As a child, I was expected to behave in church. Grown-ups don’t like being distracted during mass. But babies fuss, and stomachs growl, and cell phones ring. And of course, we can do something about cell phones, except when the owner doesn’t hear it. But checking Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, football scores, video games … in church? We say it’s rude at the dinner table because it shows we don’t value the people with us. What does it mean when we think it’s just fine at the Eucharistic table? We express in our actions what we believe. Do we like what our actions say we believe?

At the Wayne Theatre as at most entertainment venues, people who arrive late don’t just get to walk in and grab a seat unmindful of the disruption they cause. But in church, it seems perfectly fine when people walk around looking for seats and the rest of us are supposed to be listening to God’s Word being proclaimed. If God’s Word has something important to say to us, we should want to pay close attention. Our actions express what we believe. Do we like what our actions say we believe?

We show great reverence for the Eucharist when we approach the table with attention and respect. We recall Jesus’ example and teachings, that we should love one another, forgive our enemies, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, welcome the stranger. We remember that he offered his life that we might be reconciled to God and one another. But until we intentionally blend his teachings into our living, we approach the table empty-handed, claiming a faith that fails to translate into action in our lives.

Communion is truly more than taking bread and wine that Jesus transformed into his Body and Blood. It proclaims our willingness to embrace the transformation that Jesus wants to bring about in us. He wants to share his life with us, that we bear fruit in compassion and conviction. And when we truly embrace his teachings and his values, we express our willingness to be created anew in his likeness. Our words and actions will tell that God is alive and active in the world. The evidence will be powerful and unmistakable, proof that we believe, and intend to live what we believe. Our actions express what we believe. Do we like what our actions say we believe?

Rolo B Castillo © 2018