Feast of Corpus Christi
26 June 2011
My dear friends,
Ethiopia suffered a severe famine during the years 1984-1986. During that famine Cardinal Hume of Westminster visited the country. One of the places he went was a settlement in the hills where the people were waiting for food which was unlikely to arrive. He was taken in a helicopter.
As he got out of the helicopter a small boy, aged about ten, came up to him and took his hand. He was wearing nothing but a loincloth round his waist. The whole time the Cardinal was there the little child would not let go of his hand. As they went around he made two gestures : with one hand he pointed to his mouth, and with the other he took the cardinal’s hand and rubbed it on his cheek.
The Cardinal himself later commented ‘Here was an orphan boy who was in a sense lost and starving. With two simple gestures he indicated our two fundamental needs or hungers. With one gesture, he showed me his hunger for food, and with the other his hunger for love. I have never forgotten that incident, and to this day I wonder whether that child is still alive. I remember that as I boarded the helicopter he stood and looked at me reproachfully.’
Today we keep a memory, one that gives life and promises eternal life. It is not a memory in the sense that it reminds us of long ago; it is rather a memory that makes the past present. The self-giving of Jesus in his life and ministry, at the Last Supper, on the Cross and in the Holy Spirit is as present to us as it was to the first disciples. Today’s feast celebrates the presence of Jesus in the mystery of the Eucharist, his presence among us under the appearance of bread and wine.
If we do not recognise him immediately we are in good company. Mary, early in the morning on the first day of the week, thought he was the gardener. Some of the disciples thought he was a ghost until he ate a piece of grilled fish. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus thought initially that he was a well-informed stranger. Eventually they recognised him in the breaking of bread. When we celebrate the Eucharist in his memory we can recognise that he is truly with us. Our faith helps us to see what our eyes on their own cannot.
In a homily once Archbishop Oscar Romero said “Faith is what a child has when its father puts out his hands and says ‘Jump’ and the child leaps into space with the assurance that its fathers hands won’t let it fall.” As today’s Gospel is proclaimed, a similar faith is required of all who listen. Believing in the gift of Jesus as living bread challenges us to move beyond our eyes and what seems rational to take that leap of faith which says “I do not fully understand but I believe – help my unbelief.”
The God who saved the chosen people in the desert is still saving through Jesus Christ his Son. The risen Lord who appeared to Saul and called him to be an apostle is making himself known to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and inviting us to go out in his name. As we reflect on this great mystery we can come to realise how
life-transforming it can be and how it can transform our world. If we allow the self-giving love of God, which is at the heart of the Eucharist, to take root in our hearts and minds, there will be no children in our world like Cardinal Hume’s orphan with empty stomachs and cold neglected cheeks.