The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons and reflections of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), illustrated with some of his photographs.
"O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his love has no end" (Ps 106:1). How fitting this response is today as we gather to give thanks for twenty-five years of the Lord’s goodness made visible in the marriage of Mary and Michael – a union that participates even now in the one unending love of God.
And this response of thanksgiving is equally fitting as we celebrate Our Lady’s Queenship, as we give thanks to God for the singular graces given to Our Lady so that she could be Mother of God. And now God crowns those graces which have borne such sweet fruit in Mary by making her Queen of Heaven. So the psalm response, to my mind, also most aptly echoes the words of Our Lady in her Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord… for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:46, 49). And these are words are sung every evening by the Church, the Bride of Christ, to her divine Bridegroom because she is continually thankful, daily offering this Eucharistic sacrifice of thanks for the many great things God does for her and through her.
Each of us, whenever we offer the Mass in union with Christ acting in the person of his Priest, will have our own reasons for giving God thanks. But this evening, we’re especially united with the O’Duffins in giving thanks for the graces that have sustained Mary and Michael’s marriage and caused it to bear, also, such sweet fruit.
It is clear from the thought and effort that has gone into preparing for today’s Mass that the Eucharist is central to Mary and Michael’s lives – and what joy it is to celebrate the Mass with them here in this great Jesuit church, the spiritual home of the O’Duffins, and with us Dominicans, their spiritual confréres, present. Truly, the Eucharist is our sacrament of unity and charity! And the centrality of the Eucharist is thus vital to the vitality and joy of Mary and Michael’s marriage. For Christ himself is the cause of their loving union, and through the Eucharist Jesus draws all ever deeper into the loving embrace of the Holy Trinity: it is here that we are being schooled in unity and charity.
Christ famously sums up the Law as love of God and love of neighbour (cf Mt 22:37-39) as we hear in today’s Gospel. But, so familiar are we with this, that we often neglect the third party: we must also love ourselves (Mt 22:39). Indeed, I would say that this comes first. As St John says: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
Hence it is in the Mass that we encounter our God who loved us first; who showed the depth of his love by becoming flesh and dying for us; our God who loves us so much that he remains here for us and with us under the humble ordinary forms of bread and wine. So, here we encounter love and we are schooled in this fundamental fact: God loves me. Is this not the one thing that is so lacking in our world today? So many of our contemporaries, made with this God-shaped hole that longs for love, just don’t know that God is here - he is waiting for us. So many, needlessly then, feel unloved. So, let many be called here and drawn here and led here to the Eucharist so that they can be loved. I know that this church is a great centre for ‘Nightfever’ which is well-loved by the O’Duffins – a beautiful way for many to know the love of God present in the Eucharist.
Knowing that God loves me, then, is fundamental. It makes the rest possible, and so, having the Eucharist central to Mary and Michael’s marriage is what makes these past twenty-five years (and, we pray many many more to come) possible! For when we encounter the God of Love here, and when we know we are loved, then we can begin to love God in return. We do this by offering to God the very best we have, exercising our intellects to seek him in Truth, engaging our wills to love him in Obedience, employing our talents and skills in his service. Something like this – a beautiful celebration of the sacred Liturgy – is the culminating expression of this offering of ourselves, our very best, to God. It truly is the “right and just” thing to do, to attend to the Liturgy with reverent and attentive devotion and with a care for its solemn beauty, if we want to love and thank God.
Then from this attention to the Liturgy, from an actual participation in the Eucharistic action of Christ who pours himself out in love for Mankind, we learn what it means to love another. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “The eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards neighbour” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 88). For Michael and Mary, their first neighbour is one another, and then, of course, their boys and family. But we know that their heart, as a couple, is also opened toward countless others: the boys of St Aloysius’ College, the teachers and pupils they meet, and so many friends as well as strangers and passers-by. And of course, we Dominican friars and other priests are also their ‘boys’! This expansive love is characteristic of a Eucharistic heart; they have been expanded by grace to make room, indeed a home, for others.
Our Lady, by her generous Yes to the angel showed that her immaculate heart was just such a Eucharistic heart. For grace enabled her to not just become Mother of God, but your mother and my mother – Mother of the Church. Because of Our Lady whose immaculate heart beats as the heart of the Church, the Church is a home, a mother, a refuge for all. And this, too, is something our contemporaries long for: a Home in a world which has become such a wilderness. Many hearts have become weary, and life with its many worries and problems has become like the valley of death in which one lies like dry bones.
But here in Christ’s Church where Mary’s heart beats in tandem with the Eucharistic and Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ – here, there is life; new and everlasting life. Here, in the Eucharist, there is rest. Here, there is refreshment and joy. Here, there is Love and the Spirit to raise all up. Hence, “the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come’!” (Apoc 22:17)
So, as we come together today to celebrate these twenty-five years of love which the Spirit has raised up, we go again to the Source of Mary and Michael’s love. We come to Love himself, made present and tangible and visible for us in the Most Holy Eucharist. We come to Our Lord Jesus Christ to be loved. By his Mother’s intercession, may our hearts, like Our Lady’s, be filled with love so that we can bring many thirsty souls to Christ, and may we come at last to that eternal marriage feast in heaven where Our Lady reigns with him as Queen.
Therefore, let us “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his love has no end”.
On 20 August 1914 – 100 years ago – Pope Pius X died, and he would become the first pope to be canonized since the 16th-century Dominican Pope St Pius V. In his 11 year pontificate, St Pius X set out to “restore all things in Christ” – that was his motto. With his many years of pastoral experience in parishes and seminary, in diocesan offices and finally as bishop and cardinal, Pope Pius X saw the need to reform the Church. So, he initiated reforms in papal elections, seminary life, Eucharistic practice, sacred music, Biblical studies, the breviary, catechesis, the organization of the Roman Curia, and Canon Law.
Now, the work of reforming the Church so that she can more faithfully carry out the mission given her by Christ is a graced work. For what is the task, indeed, the raison d’être of the Church? Pius X said in his first speech as pope in 1903: “The way to reach Christ is not hard to find: it is the Church… It was for this that Christ founded it, gaining it at the price of His blood, and made it the depositary of His doctrine and His laws, bestowing upon it at the same time an inexhaustible treasury of graces for the sanctification and salvation of men”.
Consequently, one can see in the labours of Pope St Pius X, then, a certain fulfillment of Ezekiel’s promise. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Eze 36:25). So, through his Vicar on earth, Christ is at work, cleansing, reforming, renewing his Church so that she may lead souls to himself. And the reform of spiritual practices, of Canon Law, and liturgical law, as it were, enables what Ezekiel says in verse 27: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”.
St Pius X is often called the ‘Pope of the Eucharist’ because he lowered the age of first Holy Communion to 7 and he promoted frequent and daily Communion for those who were properly disposed, that is to say, “in a state of grace and approaches with a right intention”. Why did he encourage this practice? Because, like Pope Francis in our time, Pope Pius X said that the Eucharist is not a reward but a “remedy for human frailty… an antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sins”. Through the worthy reception of Holy Communion, then, we can say with Ezekiel that God puts a new heart and a new spirit in us. Indeed, God takes out of our flesh the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh (cf Eze 36:26) – the Eucharistic flesh of his own Son, taken from Christ’s Sacred Heart – thus conforming us to Christ and uniting us more closely to him. The human person himself, then, becomes restored in Christ. We can see why the frequent and even daily reception of the Eucharist was such a key part of Pope St Pius X’s vision of reform and restoration.
But even as the soul is renewed, so must the mind be restored in Christ through a sound grasp of divine Truth, of revelation entrusted to the Church and contemplated in theology. Only with a good understanding of right doctrine can one reach Christ in and with his Church. Writing at the time of his death in 1914, The Tablet thus said that “The primary function of St Peter is to confirm his brethren [in the Faith]. It was in this, the highest and most essential of his duties — the defence of the Catholic faith — that Pius X stood before the Christian world as the vigilant and invincible guardian”.
So well did St Pius X carry out his vocation that he was canonized in 1954, and he was said by The Tablet to have been a “singularly lovable personality” who was “a man of God in whom we beheld all the power and the charm of apostolic honesty and simplicity”. May he pray for us, that we may be restored and reformed in the image of Christ and thus come to the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb with our wedding garments, that is, our baptismal faith, unstained (cf Mt 22:11-12).
Today hidden things are being revealed through parables. The prophet Jeremiah enacts a parable which shows us the hidden corruption of sin, while Christ tells a parable which speaks of the hidden transformative activity of grace. And both is at work in the human person.
So, in the First Reading the waistcloth stands for God’s people, and so, it represents you and me, who are called into a very intimate union with God through baptism. Just as in the baptismal liturgy a white garment is used as a symbol of one’s Christian dignity, so here a white linen loincloth is that symbol. But that cloth is hidden in a cleft of the rock, where the waters of the Euphrates river run over it. The Euphrates represents Babylon, a symbol of foreign power, idolatry, and sin. And so, hidden and unseen, sin, which is foreign to God, corrupts the human person, weakens our moral character.
This corruption does not come from the actual commissions of sins, as such, but something more subtle, and thus, hidden. It refers, I think, to an attachment to sin. St Francis de Sales explains: “weak and lukewarm penitents… would be very happy if they could sin without being damned; they speak of sin as something regretfully lost, and of sinners as though theirs were the happier lot”. This attachment to sin, St Francis de Sales says, “not only places you in danger of relapsing but is a constant source of weakness and discouragement, preventing you from doing good readily, diligently and frequently”.
I think we can all recognize this attachment to sin; repeated confessions where there is no firm purpose of amendment because we don’t really hate our sins. Rather, we are still hidden in the cleft of the rock, where the waters of the Euphrates run over us and slowly render us weak, discouraged and ultimately “spoiled” (Jer 13:7). Hence, we need to be removed from all attachment to our sins, and this is only possible if we see its disasterous effects, and why particular sinful acts are so harmful. Jeremiah’s actions, then, are meant to show us the effects of sin, rendering one “good for nothing” (Jer 13:7).
On the contrary, that which renders us good is God’s grace. As we said in our Collect, without God, “nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy”. So, we stand in absolute need of him, utterly dependent on his grace to accomplish any good. As such, God brings us to an awareness of our sins in order to spoil our pride (cf Jer 13:9), and so, to turn us back to him in humility so that we learn to cling to him, and to co-operate with his grace.
For God’s grace is not completely absent, even in the heart of sinners. His grace goes before us to move us to repentance, so that, having been forgiven, we can become holy, sanctified by grace. This grace at work in us, moving us to repentance and then to holiness, is also hidden and unseen, like leaven hidden in the flour (cf Mt 13:33). But whereas our hidden attachment to sin corrupts, the grace hidden in us, if we co-operate with it, transforms us for the good. Like yeast in the dough grace causes us to rise up to a new life with Christ who is the Bread of Life. This truth is being enacted now in the Eucharist for we receive here God’s grace, and we pray that we will be so open to the workings of God’s grace that, as we say in the Offertory Prayer, the Eucharist will “sanctify our present way of life and lead us to eternal gladness”.
We celebrate the Eucharist every day, worshipping Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and venerating his Real Presence in every Mass. So why this special Solemnity in honour of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ? In brief, a Norbertine canoness of Liège, in what is now Belgium, received mystical visions in which she recognized that the liturgical calendar was incomplete without a special feast to honour the Mystery of the Eucharist. Several theologians were consulted about this, including eminent Dominicans, and they advised the bishop of Liège to permit a local celebration of Corpus Christi. The first such celebration was in 1246.
Among the Dominicans present and involved was the theologian and famed preacher, Hugh of St Cher, who was then Provincial of France. Hugh was a great supporter of women’s religious movements, and it seems that he saw this feast, coming from the initiative of St Julienne of Liège, as one instance of the sensus fidelium at work in the Church. And he was so impressed by this celebration that he began to promote it far and wide. In 1263, Hugh is in Orvieto where his Dominican confrère St Thomas Aquinas was living and teaching, and one year on in 1264 we find St Thomas working on a new set of liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Christi. For St Thomas had been commissioned by Pope Urban IV, who had been Archdeacon of Liège, to turn his considerable poetic talent and theological acumen to compiling the Scriptural passages, and writing antiphons, hymns, prayers, and poetry for the Mass and Office of this new feast day. These liturgical texts put together by St Thomas Aquinas are all of a solidly Biblical character, and they still used by us today, in several different contexts apart from this feast day, such as during Benediction or sung in part as motets. As such, I think that they are the most well-known of St Thomas’ work, for few can cite St Thomas’ teaching from the Summa but they can quote the Tantum ergo or have heard the Panis Angelicus.
But of all the texts we find on today’s feast extolling this great Sacrament and expounding the Mystery of our Faith, the finest and most musically exuberant is arguably St Thomas’ Sequence hymn, Lauda Sion Salvatorem, which was sung before today’s Gospel (see video below). It is a wonderful summary by St Thomas of our Catholic faith, drawn from Scripture and Tradition, concerning the Eucharist.
As you may have already noticed, then, it’s been 750 years since St Thomas wrote these texts. And 750 years ago, on 11 August 1264, Pope Urban IV also wrote a text, a document called Transiturus de hoc mundo, in which he encouraged the universal Church, and not just the local church of Liège, to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. Hence this year is the 750th anniversary of the institution of this beautiful feast; a special celebration, indeed, which is, in the words of fr Paul Murray OP, “a liturgy of the Church prompted by the dream-vision of a young girl, and given final literary shape and form by the greatest theologian of the period”.
So, to return to the question I asked at the beginning – why celebrate a special feast of the Eucharist? – Pope Urban IV gives an answer. He notes in Transiturus that the memorial of institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday takes place at such a busy time when we are otherwise occupied with other activities like “the reconciliation of penitents, blessing the chrism, fulfilling the Commandment about the washing of the feet, and many other things” – you can see that this was a former Archdeacon with much pastoral experience! So, he says, that just as we keep a feast of All Saints when we can gather especially to remember those saints whom we were too busy to celebrate on their proper feast days during the course of the year, so, likewise, he thinks we should keep a special feast of the Eucharist. He says: “This feast must shine with a special festivity and honour so that whatever of solemnity is perhaps omitted in other Masses might be supplied in this feast with diligent devotion”. Again, with a realism that comes from pastoral experience, Pope Urban acknowledges that during the year we may attend Masses, even daily, and do so in a distracted or hurried way, “perhaps from negligence of human frailty”. But today, on the feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Urban exhorts us to “attentively restore what was lacking and do so in humility of spirit and purity of heart”. Thus Pope Francis said that “On Holy Thursday we remember the institution of the Eucharist. On Corpus Christi we adore It”.
Today’s feast, then, is a graced opportunity given to us by Christ’s Church to gather and solemnly adore Our Lord who is really present here for us. We gather today to strengthen our faith in the Mystery of the Eucharist; to increase our loving contemplation of this great Gift of Christ’s Body and Blood; and to publicly give thanks for the marvellous work God is doing as he faithfully comes and walks alongside Mankind – He, who is God-with-us – through this great Sacrament. The simple Procession that we’ll walk after this Mass is an expression of all this. For, as Pope Urban says, this “is the memorial most sweet and salvific in which we gratefully recall the memory of our redemption, in which we are drawn from evil, strengthened in good, and secure an increase in virtues and graces”.
Therefore, on this feast of Corpus Christi, let us, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, feast on his Body and Blood; feast on God’s goodness and sweet graces; feast on the eternal life and love that comes from Our Lord. For as Jesus promises us: “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:58). And let us also feast on the teaching of St Thomas embodied in the liturgical texts of this Mass and Office; going home and meditating on what Truth has revealed to him (some texts here). Thus, as Pope Urban IV said, we shall be so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that we can let “faith sing, hope dance, and charity exult; let devotion applaud, the choir be jubilant, and purity delight; [let us celebrate] the solemnity of so great a feast”!
Today, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, is traditionally kept as the great feast of Corpus et Sanguis Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ; in some places it has been transferred to the coming Sunday.
The Mass on this day has a Sequence hymn written by my saintly confrère, St Thomas Aquinas. The range of this sequence is quite unusual, giving expression to the line of text which exhorts us to do all we dare to do in order to honour the Eucharist.
A non-literal translation for this hymn, the words of which are well worth meditating on as they contain a summary of St Thomas’ Eucharistic theology, can be found here. A talk about this Sequence hymn can also be found here.
In this particular video the music is from the Dominican Gradual, and I am singing it with my confrère fr. Robert Verrill OP; the photos are from my collection.
Forty days ago, very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, two men in white appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, and they ask them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). And today “two men in white” appear again, this time to the men, and they ask them: “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11). And these questions are related by one thing: in both instances, Jesus’ disciples were looking for him. They sought him in the empty tomb, and they sought him in the empty skies. But he is not there. Hence another man in white, the astronaut Yuri Gagarin, is reported to have said, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God”. Indeed, and he ought not to have expected God to be up there in space. As the Gospel’s men in white would have said: “He is not here” (cf Mk 16:6).
Where, then, is Jesus now that he has been taken up into heaven? Where can God be found if not up in the sky or down in the grave? In St John’s Gospel, Jesus says something to his apostles that points towards an answer: “A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me” (Jn 16:16). This suggests that the way in which we, Jesus’ disciples, can see Jesus is in a different mode, that is to say, not physically as a man standing among us. How, then, can we see God? Where is Jesus?
St Luke gives an answer. In his Gospel, he recounts how Jesus appears to his two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Then, “when he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Lk 24:30f). And, then, in his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke recounts what the apostles did after Jesus had ascended into heaven. The men in white had said: “This Jesus… will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). So, what do they do? St Luke says they returned to Jerusalem, and then “went up to the upper room” and prayed with the women (Acts 1:13f). Hence, the Church gathered together in prayer in the upper room. And not just any prayer – they gathered for Liturgy, for the Eucharist, because “the upper room” is where Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Thus, in these two ways, St Luke teaches us that Jesus is with us, and can be seen, albeit not physically as a man, in the Holy Eucharist. As he says, the Risen Lord Jesus “was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Hence, he is not among the dead in an empty tomb, nor in the heavens. Rather, as Our Lord says: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51).
So, if we seek Christ today, we are in the right place. He is here in the Breaking of Bread, and we see him, we recognize him, we know him through faith in the Eucharist.
The men in white had said that Jesus will “come in the same way you saw him go”. That is to say, mysteriously, lifted up and hidden from view in the clouds; his divinity is unseen. Thus Jesus comes to us here and now, hidden from plain physical sight under the veil of the Sacraments, mysteriously present under the appearances of bread and wine. As St Thomas says: “as Christ shows us His Godhead invisibly, so also in this sacrament He shows us His flesh in an invisible manner” (ST III, 75, 1).
But why, then, did Jesus ascend into heaven? The Preface of the Ascension says that Jesus “was taken up to heaven… that he might make us sharers in his divinity”. For St Luke’s language of Jesus being taken up into a cloud is theological language, drawing on Old Testament imagery in which God is present to the people of Israel as a pillar of cloud (cf Ex 13:21-22). Hence, as Pope Benedict explains: “Jesus’ departure [is presented] not as a journey to the stars, but as his entry into the mystery of God… He enters into communion of power and life with the living God”. Jesus, then, is not the first astronaut!
The long discourse from St John’s Gospel, which we’ve been listening to these past weeks of Eastertide, is a revelation of God the Son to his disciples during the Last Supper. In fact, it is the apostles, the pillars of his Church, to whom Christ is speaking, and he does so within the context of the Eucharist which is the heart and source of his Church. As such, Jesus is revealing to his holy Church what he will do for her. He says: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13).
Thus Christ promises that his Church will have the fullness of the revelation of the truth, that is to say, “everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God” (Dei Verbum, §8).
There is a tendency to think of Jesus like an absentee landlord who, after his Ascension, leaves the Church and her leaders to their own devices, to muddle along. But even if it is true that sinful human beings have often made a muddle of things, it is also true that Jesus promises his Church that he will send the Spirit to be with her, working with and through frail and fallible human instruments to teach Christ’s infallible truths concerning salvation. For as St Paul tells the men of Athens, the “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30) have passed, and now God no longer wants us to just “feel after [God]” (Acts 17:27) but know God through the revelation that comes from Jesus Christ and his Mystical Body, the Church.
Hence in these days before the Ascension we hear again and again Jesus’ assurances that he will send “another Counselor” to his apostles, all of whom were such frightened, weak, and sinful men. Yet Jesus teaches us that the Spirit will faithfully “declare” to these apostles and their successors everything that comes from the Father and the Son (cf Jn 13f). Thus, through Christ’s Church, of which Christ is the Head and the Holy Spirit is her soul (see Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis, §57), all humanity until the end of time can be led into the complete truth.
As the Jesuit cardinal, Henri de Lubac, who had been a theological consultant at Vatican II said: “The Holy Spirit who guided the Apostle is the same who still guides the Church, and speaks by the voice of the modern popes. The path to which it commits us is the only safe one. To follow it is neither naïveté, nor syncretism, nor liberalism; it is simply Catholicism”.
But the path to which this commits us is also the path of faith. It requires that we believe Christ’s Word; that we trust Jesus’ promise that he will give the Spirit; that we have faith that God’s Spirit is actively and surely leading and guiding Christ’s Church into complete truth, despite our human failings. For we know that our God is always faithful even when we are unfaithful (cf 2 Tim 2:13). This is the God we know and worship – not an unknown god as the Athenians did – but One who we know is Risen from the dead, and who is with us now, here, in the Breaking of Bread.
Circumcision “according to the custom of Moses” (Acts 15:1), thankfully, is not necessary for salvation. However, this does not mean nothing has to be cut away. For as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, God the Father will prune; he will cut away whatever keeps us from bearing fruit as Christians.
The Christian is one who is united to Christ through grace. His precious Blood, which we drink in the Mass, flows in our veins. As sap courses through a plant and gives it life, so we draw our strength and nourishment, our share in the divine life from the true Vine. Apart from him, we can do nothing (cf Jn 15:5); indeed, we are nothing.
Now, to be fruitful as Christians means, as Pope Francis likes to remind us, that we are filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. This is not mere external happiness and superficial smiles, but the deep joy of belonging to God, of being united to Christ in love, of being Christian; the kind of joy that enables countless Christians down the centuries to this day to faithfully endure even suffering and the chalice of martyrdom. For the wine of the Eucharist which comes from the true Vine has intoxicated us and gives true joy. But this wine is Christ’s saving blood. Thus all who drink deeply from Christ’s chalice, who really share in the fruit of the true Vine, will also experience the deep joy of sacrificial love, of being poured out for the good of others.
In this, in acts of love, we find salvation. Not through circumcision, then, do we find salvation, but through union with Christ who is Love. Then, the fruit of joy is ripened by love so that others can taste and see the sweetness and goodness of God at work in our lives. This, then, is how we are saved – by allowing God’s good grace to sweeten us, and his Love to ripen us so that we abide in Christ, and Christ in us (cf Jn 15:4); his saving Blood flows in our veins.
But for Christ’s Blood and grace to flow in us so that we are fruitful, so that we can love as he loves, certain things will need to be cut out. St Paul, echoing Deuteronomy, thus speaks of a circumcision, not according to the custom of Moses, but of the heart. St Paul says: “real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Rom 2:29). Hence, we need to be pruned by the divine Vinedresser, co-operating with God’s grace to cut out of our lives all that separates us from God, all the sinful desires, attitudes and addictions that obstruct the flow of God’s love in our lives.
So, let us examine our lives and consider: What do we need to cut out? And then, let us offer them to the Father, asking for his mercy and grace. We need to let God prune us and to ask him to give us the courage and generosity to accept the pain of this pruning, so that we will bear fruit in joy and ripen in acts of Christ-like love. For while the circumcision of Moses is not necessary for salvation, this one, the truer spiritual kind which makes us abide in Jesus Christ, is.
We human beings encounter the reality of the world around us, we know, through the senses; through our sight, touch, hearing, and taste. Hence in today’s Gospel Jesus invites his disciples to encounter the reality of who he is – that he is the Risen One – through the human senses. They hear him speaking to them, and he says, “See my hands and my feet”; “Handle me” (Lk 24:39); and then, he eats a piece of broiled fish. Thus, all four senses of sight, touch, hearing and taste are used to verify the reality, the truth, of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He invites them to know that “it is I myself”, Jesus himself and not some simulacrum of him. This was how Jesus made himself known to his disciples that first Easter Sunday.
But now for us, Jesus makes himself known to us, in the way that he once did when he encountered the two disciples in Emmaus. As St Luke says: “they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of bread” (Lk 24:35). Why does Jesus choose this mode of being present to us, his disciples? Because we are on the road too. We, too, are like the Israelites who celebrated the Passover with unleavened bread, prepared for travel. We, too, are like these two disciples, on the road. For we are a pilgrim Church, a people on the road, making our way through life towards our home and destination, which is heaven. Hence, Jesus is present for us, and makes himself known to us as he once did to the disciples in Emmaus: in the breaking of bread; in the Eucharist which becomes our Bread for the journey or, as Tolkien put it, Waybread.
The Eucharist, though, is truly the Mysterium Fidei, the Mystery or Sacrament of Faith. In it, once more, the Risen Lord Jesus is encountered and not some simulacrum of him. “It is I myself”, Jesus says, which is why the Eucharist is consecrated by Christ’s Priest in the first person: “This is my Body; This is my Blood”. However, unlike the disciples in today’s Gospel, we cannot rely on our senses of sight, touch, or taste to encounter this reality. As St Thomas says, “Seeing, touching, tasting fail to discern Thee”. But rather, we rely purely on the sense of hearing, or to be more precise, we rely on faith, believing in the Word of God whom we hear speaking. So, St Thomas puts it like this: “How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed. What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true”. Hence, we believe that the Risen Lord is wholly present in the Eucharist; he makes himself known to us in the breaking of Bread because he has promised to do so. “I it is myself”. For we human beings know not just through our senses but through faith in God’s Word.
But this just seems too good to be true, sometimes. St Luke uses a rather strange and unique phrase in today’s Gospel for this. The apostles “disbelieved for joy” (Lk 24:41). So, too, when we encounter the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, we can find ourselves disbelieving for joy. Not because we doubt Christ’s Word or the salvific truth taught by his Church, but rather because the Eucharist is just such a marvel of divine love, such a daily miracle of God’s faithfulness to humanity, such a sign of divine mercy and humility, that we can’t fully grasp the depth of this great Mystery of Faith. As St John Vianney said: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”
What we can do, however, is to just be present here in the Mass, and worship. So, as he once did for the disciples, we ask Jesus to open our minds (cf Lk 24:45), and to make us his witnesses – evangelizers of the joy we have in knowing the risen Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of faith.
God’s covenant with Abraham is the bedrock of our faith. For through the incident recounted in today’s First Reading, God takes the initiative to enter into a personal relationship with Mankind; he calls Abraham and his descendants into communion with him. And our faith is founded on this promise of “an everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:7). Thus, Abraham is called, in the Roman Canon, our “father in faith”.
In the covenant, God promises: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful” (17:6), and makes the gift of “all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession” (17:8). What this means is that communion with God brings life and flourishing. It is a promise, then, of salvation. We need to bear in mind that the word ‘salvation’ comes from the Latin salus which means health, well-being, flourishing. So, in the Old Testament, God is seen to have established a special relationship with Abraham and his descendants, with Israel, that promises to them health, success, and flourishing in this life so long as they are faithful to God and obey his Law. This, it seems, is what salvation entailed.
But Abraham’s faith shows its mettle when he’s asked to sacrifice his only son, his heir, Isaac. Thus the promise of physical health and material success is jeopardized. We need to wait until the Easter Vigil to hear this story recounted in the Liturgy but we want to keep it in mind today because what this incident shows is the depths of Abraham’s faith. He, our father in faith, shows us that faith encompasses the suffering, sacrifice and the endurance of all earthly sorrows and grief. And Abraham can do this because he believes above all that God is faithful and good, and so, will ultimately bring about life and flourishing. God will be faithful to his Word even in the face of death.
Hence, Abraham grasped that salvation is not so much about success and power in this earthly life but something deeper and more lasting, transcending even death. The covenant is not just a treaty for worldly gain, then, but something more profound, of spiritual significance and with its promise of rescue beyond the grave. So, when the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac is read on Easter night, then we see that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s final and definitive answer to Abraham’s faith in the covenant. Here is the promised salvation, perfectly realized for all Abraham’s descendants. Because, by Christ’s Resurrection, Mankind is rescued from the privation of death, and shares in the everlasting life and health of God himself. Through Christ’s Resurrection the covenant with Abraham is perfected, and the salvation promised him is fully realized. We, who are Abraham’s descendants and heirs because we share his faith in Jesus’ Resurrection, are thus also inheritors of God’s covenant, the “new and eternal covenant” signed with Christ’s blood.
It seems that Abraham already had a glimpse of all this. For all this is what his faith signifies and anticipates. Hence Jesus says: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (Jn 8:56). For the day Abraham saw was the day of God’s salvation, and now, in Jesus Christ, in his saving Passion and Resurrection, that day shines out clearly. So, in the coming Holy Week we will see Abraham’s faith come to fruition so that with him, our father in faith, we can also rejoice and be glad.