BREAD BROKEN AND SHARED IN LOVE
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections on the Liturgy Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Year B)
If we go by the three recent youth surveys in the Philippines done on the national level, there is some reason for us to worry. And when I say “us” I mean priests, pastors, religion teachers, religious brothers and sisters, parents – the Philippine Church, as a whole. Less and less young people are approaching the sacraments, the surveys show. That means, less and less of them go to confession, and, that means, less and less of them go to communion. As Rector in our College-Seminary in Canlubang for eight years, and as educator there for another 7 years, both as a brother and as a young priest, I stood witness to the progressively growing unpopularity of confession and communion. It was almost like we had to beg the older adolescents in the college level, especially, to take advantage of the weekly opportunity to confess and the almost daily opportunity to receive holy communion.
Today, the whole Church calls on us all to celebrate and extol the sacred Body and Blood of the Lord, (Corpus Christi), the real though sacramental presence of Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity, under the species of bread and wine. Through the priestly power of the words of consecration, what was simply bread and wine is transformed into His Body and Blood in the Eucharistic miracle called Transubstantiation, and are then given to us and shed for our salvation.
Christ’s sharing his body and blood in the Eucharist is basically all about God filling us up, supplying for what we most want, and providing for what we most need – and lack – as pilgrims and wayfarers, people with body and soul, and thus, living both a physical existence as much as a spiritual life. The Eucharist is all about God offering salvation to a people He has redeemed by the shedding of blood of Jesus, His Son. Reminiscent of the Old Testament pouring of blood of the sacrificial lamb, as the seal of the covenant between God and His people, Christ’s blood, poured out in sacrifice, too, sealed the new covenant and assured those who partake of it life everlasting. The Eucharist is thus the pledge of what awaits us – the coming fullness of salvation. An old Latin hymn, the Pange Lingua attributed to St. Thomas, puts it so poetically and nicely, “nobis pignus datur futurae gloriae!” (In the Eucharist, a pledge of future glory is given to us.)
But if the Eucharist supplies for a certain hunger, we need to look at precisely what this hunger is all about. Perhaps, this is what is missing in the young of today. There is a growing lack of ability to “put a handle” on many things, including the deep hunger that exists in each and everyone of us. There is the growing phenomenon of people, young and old, not being able to “name,” let alone “acknowledge” their deepest needs and wants and desires. People today may look for satiety in many ways, but they miss satisfaction. People now may long for fullness in many forms, but may miss fulfillment. People long for “solutions” to many problems, but may totally miss a basic direction, a foundational orientation that does not simply offer a stopgap measure, but an important direction that points to a total, integral resolution to humankind’s most important existential and timeless questions. People now continually search for the ultimate. There is the on-going search for the ultimate cellphone, the ultimate and the latest PDA, the best and latest technological marvel. People are vying endlessly for the most advanced, most sophisticated, most powerful computer. People are caught up in this never-to-be-fulfilled longing and hunger for everything that represents “cutting-edge technology” in all fields of human endeavor.
There is a deep hunger in the heart of women and men of our times, all over the world! Why, you might ask, are we so deeply engrossed in the fictional lives of characters who inhabit the make-believe world of telenovelas and chinovelas? Why would people be so taken up by the desire to congregate and connect with others at the end of a very busy day, willing to spend a great part of their daily income on drinks, shows, food, etc. that goes under the generic term “gimmicks?” Why, young people who never drank coffee at home, now are willing to shell out even more than a hundred pesos for a fancy, frothing, filling cup of imported coffee! They ensconce themselves comfortably in well-lighted and well-appointed coffee shops, where they can laugh and chat a portion of the evening away, only to go home tired, empty and several hundreds of pesos poorer for the experience.
There is a deep hunger in the heart of people nowadays, and this hunger is supplied for, at least temporarily, by a long line of consumer-oriented, and materialistic concerns that fill the body but not the soul.
Today’s feast offers us an alternative response to what we very easily can identify as a superficial hunger in our everyday lives. We hunger for connectivity, and so we look for it in noisy places where our “existential loneliness” can be assuaged, if only for a short while. We hunger for fullness of life, and so we look for fulfillment in food, drinks and endless entertainment. We hunger for deep union with Someone who can truly lift us up from the mire of frustration and we drown the deep hunger with one superficial activity after another.
Together with the Church, I would like to offer an alternative to all this. The Lord offers us the ultimate. The Lord goes directly to the real and true hunger that masquerades behind our superficial wanting and yearning. The Lord supplies for what stands as our deepest need, a need that springs from the depths of our nature as spiritual, and not merely carnal, persons. He offers Himself to us, as food and drink. It is food that goes beyond physical hunger, drink that goes beyond bodily thirst. The only valid response to this is what we proclaimed after the first reading – a resolute commitment: “I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord!”
Young people, I invite you to look beyond your hunger for the latest fad, the latest technological marvel. I invite you to look beyond your longing for short term relationships that lead nowhere but to a series of frustrating experiences. Parents, I invite you to assist your young sons and daughters and to help them realize that there is patently more to life than just getting filled with stuff, and that there is more to life than just getting entertained, and getting a kick out of the temporariness of earthly affairs. Teachers and pastors, we all need to acknowledge the singular power of influence we hold over the young in helping them shape and mold their youngish ambitions and desires. We all need to claim our prophetic role and speak to them “in season and out of season,” not to be afraid about proposing to them what is right, what is proper, what is noble, what is life-giving and enabling instead of what is life-draining and disabling. We ought to claim our role in helping them look beyond the ‘ningning’ (glitter) of this globalized and consumeristic, materialistic culture created by the mass media, an artificial world which continually creates, (but does not supply for) ever new forms of superficial hungers that only He who said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever,” can fully fill. He alone can satisfy our deepest yearnings, for He alone “has the words of everlasting life.”