Homily – Corpus Christi (2021)

Homily – Corpus Christi (2021)

Today we celebrate the liturgical feast that honors the Body and Blood of Christ.  In a couple of weeks the U.S. bishops will hold their annual meeting and one of the topics will be to discuss what “worthiness to receive the Body and Blood of Christ” means.  For example, if someone has mortal sin on their soul, the Church teaches that a person in mortal sin is not at that point “worthy” to receive Holy Communion.  That comes right from Scripture – from Saint Paul who said that if we eat the Body of Christ unworthily, we bring condemnation upon ourselves.  We also find in Scripture the mention of mortal sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance and among them is the sin of murder.  If we consider the number of murders in recent years just in our own nation, those who commit murder are in mortal sin.  Whether Catholic or not, whether a person believes in God or not, the serious sin of murder offends God Who is the Source and Creator of all human life.  Similarly, anyone who publicly encourages murder or helps to support murder would also be guilty of mortal sin.  With a number of Catholic politicians as well as Catholics in a variety of professions who support murder of the child in the womb by abortion, the bishops will soon decide whether or not it is appropriate to make a forceful statement about pro-abortion Catholics either receiving or not receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.    

This will be an important discussion for the bishops.  In the 1800s the bishops then were faced with a similar challenge.  That was a time in our nation when slavery was acceptable; the laws allowed for slavery.  Bishops at that time surely knew that slavery was a terrible evil that inflicted harm and oppression upon many black women, men and children while at the same time it accommodated those who owned slaves.  However, for the most part the bishops did not condemn the practice of owning slaves and by not doing so, Catholics who were in the state of mortal sin by treating slaves inhumanely still thought that they could and should receive Holy Communion.  The question before the bishops today is whether they will speak forcefully against abortion and the other seriously sinful behaviors that are now a part of public life.  This issue will come up as they consider the importance of the Eucharist.  One bishop recently addressed that point when he said that “many baptized Catholics do not take the Eucharist seriously because they do not take sin seriously.”  (Arch. Samuel Aquila)

  As far back as the early 1400s (1435 Pope Eugene IV in Sicut Deum) popes condemned slavery because it treated people inhumanely.  But even though it was condemned, slavery was  still practiced and some prominent Catholics were slave-owners.  Church historians indicate that Catholic bishops knew that slavery was evil and they knew about the horrors that were inflicted upon slaves but did little to speak against it.  A bishop who oversaw what today would be a large section of the south (Bishop John England) wrote the following: “If domestic slavery is condemned as an unlawful and immoral practice, the bishops ... would be bound to refuse the sacraments to all who were slave holders unless they freed their slaves.”  In other words, if bishops at that time would have condemned slavery, they would have had to tell Catholic slave owners that this sinful act would keep them from receiving Holy Communion until they had repented from owning slaves.  Slavery is now illegal – but the voice of the bishops were not among those who brought the change.

Our bishops today face a serious challenge – that being how to re-educate Catholics who have grown lax with regard to the Eucharist.  Whatever statement they issue will not undo the damage that has been occurring for quite some time.  Poor catechesis from pastors as well as less than reverent liturgies have resulted in the diminished respect for the Eucharist and so we need bishops from every diocese throughout the country to implement good catechesis if we want to see an increased importance given to the Eucharist as Jesus’ Body and Blood given to us sacramentally in Holy Communion.  A necessary part of that discussion will address a person’s worthiness to receive the Eucharist.  That is where a forceful condemnation from the bishops needs to be stated with regard to Catholics who promote any type of seriously sinful behavior.

In the past slavery was condemned by the popes.  Nevertheless, their words fell on deaf ears while Catholics continued to practice slavery.  In today’s culture with abortion having become legal and often referred to as a matter of reproductive health, it still remains condemned by the Church.  And while it is not the only moral issue of our time, it is the pre-eminent moral issue.  It will be a shame if the bishops repeat the mistake of 150 years ago by NOT speaking with a forcefully unified voice.

We have laws in the Church that guide our moral lives.  There is a law about receiving  Holy Communion.  It draws from the words of Saint Paul who said that if we partake of Holy Communion in an unworthy manner – for example, if we have mortal sin on our soul – we are bringing condemnation upon ourselves.  The law with regard to Holy Communion states that if we are in mortal sin, we should NOT receive the Blessed Sacrament until we have gone to Confession and been restored to God’s grace.  It also states that if someone obstinately perseveres in manifest grave sin, they should be denied Communion – so that they do not bring a judgment of spiritual death upon themselves.  

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about how many Catholics regard receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood as simply a ceremonial gesture – like going to a birthday party and everyone getting some cake.  And so Catholics who disregard the Church’s precepts, or people who do not even believe in the Real Presence, as well as those who are involved in lifestyles that are seriously opposed to the teachings of Jesus and of the Church still feel entitled to receive Holy Communion simply because they have shown up.  It is like what Pope Benedict XVI mentioned about receiving Holy Communion simply as a ceremonial gesture.

Today we give thanks for the beauty and the mystery of the Lord’s presence in the Bread of Life.  Archbishop Sheen spoke powerfully about the Eucharist when he said “Either this is God ... or it is nothing.”  How true that is.  “Either this is God ... or it is nothing.” When I stand before you in a few moments and hold up the Bread of Life, I will say “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Each of us will have to decide – either this is God – or it is nothing.