Body, Blood of Christ strengthen faith, overcome death and sin
June is beginning with a flourish as the feast of Corpus Christi is highlighting the sacrament of the Eucharist. After this feast to the end of the liturgical year Sundays are nameless yet numbered with the exception of the last Sunday, which is Christ, the King.
However, an interesting phenomenon occurs this month because it begins with the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The readings for the next four Sundays fit in quite reasonably as commentary on the Eucharist. On the feast itself, we read of the Eucharist in Scripture. Then, the readings for the next four Sundays teach us first, the power of Christ over death; second, the power of Jesus over sin; third the fact that Christ’s power is ours through faith; and finally, we are urged to accept this power into our lives with all our strength.
So, let us begin by considering the message presented to us via the feast of Corpus Christi. The Scripture readings and all the prayers for the feast were compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas, who also wrote music for the occasion that includes the Tantum Ergo. You would expect these readings to be filled with theological meaning. And so they are.
The first reading is from the 14th chapter of Genesis, which comes from sources unlike that of the rest of Genesis. What we have here is the aftermath of a war. Abraham had chased the kings who had attacked and destroyed the cities around the Dead Sea and, when he found them, took back all the wealth they had taken along with many prisoners, including Abram’s nephew, Lot, and his family. Then, there was a thanksgiving service led by the otherwise unknown Melchizedek. His name means king of justice and his country was Salem. Salem could be taken for Jerusalem; but the word means “peace.” Putting it together we have a ceremonial thanksgiving service consisting of bread and wine. It was led by a king of justice who is from the land of peace. The meal was described in terms that tell us it was a ritual meal instituting a covenant. At the end, Abram gave Melchizedek 10 percent of all his belongings. That had to be a huge amount considering he possessed all the booty the kings he defeated had taken from the five cities they sacked.
Those are the facts. What they amount to is a covenant that included Abram, the Hebrew, as an equal of the kings in what we know as the Holy Land. More importantly, there was a relation established between God and Abram that was based on sacrifice of bread and wine. This is the scripture that Jesus used to establish a sacramental relationship with us. It is sacrificial, communal, peace-making, just and empowering. The Lord raised it to become the means by which he shares his divinity with us.
The second reading presents the words of institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper. Interestingly, it appears in a letter of Paul correcting the Christians in Corinth, who were not celebrating the Eucharist correctly. They had lost the concept of unity dividing the rich and poor. So Paul reminded them what Jesus did and said in the Upper Room. This incident brings out an important note. The New Testament does not contain many descriptions of or lessons on the sacraments because it was written to be part of those liturgies. The best way to read the books of the New Testament is to see in each passage a reference to Eucharistic spirituality—a message to the Christian community gathered at Mass.
The Corpus Christi gospel is the story of the feeding of the 5,000 men. Jesus didn’t feed them. The disciples did at Jesus’ urging. Jesus blessed the loaves and fish and gave it back to his disciples to distribute. When we experience Mass, we also are given divine gifts. We should receive them with satisfaction in our souls and spread them to others through our actions and words.
The Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time reveals that in the Eucharist we receive Christ’s power over death. The first reading is the story of Elijah restoring life to the son of the widow who had received him into her house. Elijah took the body of the young man, placed him on a bed inside his “upper room.” Then he stretched out over the breathless body and prayed. The boy came to life. We come to life when we come to Mass and remember what Jesus did at the Upper Room, where he gave us his life.
The Gospel for this Sunday also is the story of Jesus giving life back to the deceased son of a widow. The story illustrates the Lord’s compassion; but a special kind of mercy. Luke ends his telling of the story with two acclamations from the crowd: “A great prophet has arisen in our midst” and “God has visited his people.” Both of these express divine power coming to us. It is a power that triumphs over death and can come to us.
The New Testament readings for this Sunday and for the rest of the month come from Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. The subject of the letter is faith and justification. Here, Paul tells of his own introduction to the Lord on his way to Damascus. It was powerful and personal. He did not need to consult anyone. Rather, his first move was to go straight to Arabia to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ there. His life was radically changed. He learned the Gospel is not something taught. It overpowers you. It makes you want to tell the news to the whole world.
The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time focuses on the power to overcome sin. We can receive that power from the Eucharist. The Old Testament reading recounts the story of David being confronted by his personal prophet, Nathan. David had sinned by having one of his military officers placed in a doomed attack. Uriah died. His only problem was that he was married to the woman David was attracted to. In response to Nathan, David admitted his guilt. Nathan answered David, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.” God has that power and confers it through his sacraments.
Back to Galatians, Paul argues that it is not the law of Moses that frees us from sin. It is our faith, a free gift of God that justifies us. The relationship we have with God that grows through frequent communion bolsters and builds up our faith. That faith defeats sin and brings us to happiness.
Luke illustrates it is not faith alone. The gospel relates the actions of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. Jesus responded by proclaiming, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you, go in peace” He told his befuddled host, “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” The love that grows in us as we experience God’s love in holy Communion places us in the same position. We receive a power that delivers us from sin. It is the force of faith and love. These two join with hope to become the theological virtues. That is they are supernatural powers that we attain when we are united with God. Unity with God is what we celebrate in Eucharist.
The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time continues to inform us how to receive divine power. The basic answer is with Faith. But, how does that Faith come to us? The first such answer in today’s liturgy comes from the Old Testament. The prophet Zechariah might as well have been born 500 years later than he was. It is as if he were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. He writes, “they shall look at him whom they have pierced; they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn…on that day there shall be open…to the inhabitants of Jerusalem a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” The crucified Lord is the source of our strength over personal sin and the sin of the world.
Paul writes to the Galatians that through faith we become children of God. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Baptism takes away not only our sins but original sin as well. As of then, “we belong to Christ and are heirs according to the promise.” So, St. Paul leads us to faith through the sacrament of baptism as well as Eucharist.
Luke, a disciple of Paul, takes us beyond baptism in answering where faith comes from. Of course, it is the Lord. In describing the events at Caesarea Philippi, Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders…and be killed and on the third day be raised.” It is into the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are baptized. We gain victory by entering into the waters of baptism where we become one with Jesus in his struggle to destroy sin and death. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Knowing Christ is to involve each of us in his life of grace and his victorious battle against evil. The battle is no contest as we and the Lord are heavily armed with the faith that comes through Christ by means of his sacraments.
The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of June, challenges us. It calls on us to put all we’ve learned this month into practice in our daily lives. The first reading gives us the personal response that Elisha gives to the call he received from Elijah. Remember that Elijah was the last remaining prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the time of Jezebel. He calls Elisha to follow him. Elisha asks to kiss his father farewell. While doing that he also slaughtered his 12 oxen with which he had been working his land. That might be like cutting into scrap a couple of first-class combines. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment plus the land. That’s what Elisha fearlessly gave up and refused to look behind to regret. That’s the way we need to respond to Christ’s call to us.
Paul directs us to fix our attention on living in the Spirit. If we do we will have overcome the flesh. It sounds easy. But Paul warns that following the Spirit means not doing what we want to do. Following the Spirit means that, like Elisha, we must forget our previous life. The joy that we get in return is that we rise above human law with the guidance of the Spirit. We can experience freedom.
Perhaps the best example to motivate us to seek the Spirit is Jesus himself. Luke writes in today’s Gospel that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” That is to say he knew they were out to execute him in Jerusalem and he wasn’t intending to miss the date. Nor would Jesus accept the excuse of those who didn’t immediately choose to go with him. To one who wanted to bury his father first, Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” If you look behind, you are not fit for the Kingdom.
That is June. The Lord is calling us. There’s only one right answer. It is an enthusiastic Amen! Then we start following the Lord in the Spirit to the new life of grace alive in Christ in power.
Sunday, June 2: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17
Monday, June 3: Memorial, St. Charles Lwanga and companions, martyrs, Tobit 1:3 and 2:1-8; Psalm 112:1-6; Mark 12:1-12
Tuesday, June 4: Tobit 2:9-14; Psalm 112:1-2, 7-9; Mark 12:13-17
Wednesday, June 5: Memorial, St. Boniface, bishop and martyr, Tobit 3:1-11, 16-17; Psalm 25:2-9; Mark 12:18-27
Thursday, June 6: Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1, 9-17; and 8:4-9; Psalm 128:1-5; Mark 12:28-34
Friday, June 7: Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Ezekiel 34:11-16; Psalm 23:1-6; Romans 5:5-11; Luke 15:3-7
Saturday, June 8: Memorial, the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20; Tobit 13:2, 6-8; Luke 2:41-51
Sunday, June 9: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 7:11-17
Monday, June 10: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Psalm 34:2-9; Matthew 5:1-12
Tuesday, June 11: Memorial, St. Barnabas, apostle, Acts 11:21-26 and 13:1-3; Psalm 98:1-6; Matthew 5:13-16
Wednesday, June 12: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11; Psalm 99:5-9; Matthew 5:17-19
Thursday, June 13: Memorial, St. Anthony of Padua, priest, doctor of the Church, 2 Corinthians 3:15–4:1 and 4:3-6; Psalm 85:9-14; Matthew 5:20-26
Friday, June 14: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 116:10-11, 15-18; Matthew 5:27-32
Saturday, June 15: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12; Matthew 5:33-37
Sunday, June 16: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13; Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11; Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36–8:3
Monday, June 17: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Psalm 98:1-4; Matthew 5:38-42
Tuesday, June 18: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9; Psalm 146:2, 5-9; Matthew 5:43-48
Wednesday, June 19: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11; Psalm 112:1-4, 9; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Thursday, June 20: 2 Corinthians 11:1-11; Psalm 111:1-4, 7-8; Matthew 6:7-15
Friday, June 21: Memorial, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, religious, 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30; Psalm 34:2-7; Matthew 6:19-23
Saturday, June 22: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Psalm 34:8-13; Matthew 6:24-34
Sunday, June 23: Zechariah 12:10-11 and 13:1; Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17; 1 Peter 1:8-12; Luke 1:5-17
Monday, June 24: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80
Tuesday, June 25: Genesis 13:2, 5-18; Psalm 15:2-5; Matthew 7:6, 12-14
Wednesday, June 26: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 105:1-4, 6-9; Matthew 7:15-20
Thursday, June 27: Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16; Psalm 106:1-5; Matthew 7:21-29
Friday, June 28: Genesis 17:1, 9-10, 15-22; Psalm 128:1-5; Matthew 8:1-4; Acts 3:1-10; Psalm 19:2-5; Galatians 1:11-20; John 21:15-19
Saturday, June 29: Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34:2-9; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
Sunday, June 30: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Father Joseph Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.