In The United States, this weekend and more accurately tomorrow, we have a day of remembrance which we call, Memorial Day. As a nation we are invited to recall all the women and men who have died in protection of our nation’s freedom. It is a time to go to the cemeteries where are buried those people who defended democracy and liberty. It is a patriotic celebration at which are recited portions of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and or other documents and poems recalling our military history and national dedication.
This weekend in the Catholic Church is also the memorial celebration in which we recall the One Death which freed us all from the eternal unfreedoms. The Body of Christ lived among us as a Real Presence of the Eternal Love of God. His blood gave His Body life and He gave His Body and Blood for our independence from sin and for the freedom which faith requires.
As the nation gathers to recall the deaths which resulted in our living more freely as a nation, so the Church gathers to remember again the Death of this One Soldier Who laid down His life for His friends. As when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies to itself so that many grains of wheat might fruitfully grow, so His Body poured out His life-giving Blood so that we might be the fruitfulness of His life-saving, love-giving life, death and resurrection.
In our First Reading from Deuteronomy, we hear Moses relating some events of God’s history with Israel. The context of this address is that Moses is presenting the laws and customs which the people are to obey in their personal and communal lives. He asks them to call to mind the past ways God had found them, guided them and preserved them as a special people of God. They are being asked to go into their futures more faithfully and so they are called to remember how God had fed them with a bread unknown in their cultic past.
It is true that if we do not relate our stories we will forget who we are. This Memorial Day our nation is invited to remember and tell the stories of Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Omaha Beach, Pork Chop Hill and the battles in Vietnam and the present conflicts. Our freedoms have been purchased at a great price and telling the stories brings us to a new or renewed sense of gratitude and identity.
Moses is reminding the people of just who they are in the eyes of God. By their retelling these stories of God’s fidelity they will see themselves as God’s people in their own eyes. Much has been given to them and much will be offered them, and they will have to live the tensions of receiving and believing. Their praise of God is their living with their gifts, their identities and their reverence for their own personal and cultic lives.
The Gospel continues a long discussion between Jesus and His Jewish listeners. After the feeding of the large crowd with five loaves and two fish, Jesus has been telling His listeners about His being the “Bread of Life” come down from heaven. They are having quite a natural reaction to the plain-sense meaning of these words. They are aware of the history of God’s having fed their ancestors in the desert, and they all died. Jesus is extending their imaginations by telling them of the eternal life which comes from eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. This is a true crisis of faith for them and shortly after these verses, many of His closest followers leave His company, because these very words and images are way too much.
Most often in the Gospel narratives, Jesus showed up at or was invited to, the times or conditions of peoples’ lives in which they would rather not be. The blind and deaf would rather be able to see and hear. The outcasts, such as the lepers, would rather be else wise. Jesus met them at the more critical moments of their lives. These were situations in which Jesus was the outwardness of the goodness of God. At these times He gave people back their selves with the assistance to be who they were in God’s eyes. The critical time created the saving-moment or as we would say, the “graced-moment”.
The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church are these “outwardnesses” of Jesus for the critical times of our lives. Each sacrament graces a quite human experience in time. As God provided manna and water for the wandering Jewish people in their critical time of journeying in the desert, Jesus provided bread and fish for the hungry pilgrims of His time. His Body and Blood were the real presence for the critical time of our salvation. He gave His Body for us and yet to us as well. What is so beautiful about His Eucharistic Presence is its permanence, availability, and God’s radical embrace of those times in our lives we would rather not be in.
It is a great and terrible mystery, no doubt, but what is a mystery to me is all the conditions in my life from which I would rather flee, His presence graces me to show up in my body and blood. His “Real Presence” graces us to be present in as real a way as possible, especially those critical times. His availability graces us to be an available grace at the critical times of other people, when they would rather flee as well. His Real Presence offers us the grace to be a real presence ourselves. His Body and Blood makes sacred mine and yours.
“The cup of blessings that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” 1 Cor. 10, 16
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