The Solemnity of Corpus Christi
(The Body and Blood of Christ)
Annual Wedding Jubilee Celebration
Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
June 22, 2014
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  John 6:51

These words spoken by Jesus Christ in the Gospel of St. John are shocking.  He calls himself the “living bread… from heaven.”   Soon after Jesus adds that “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  Finally He says that the bread He gives is His own “flesh for the life of the world.”  What Jesus teaches should give us pause.

The startling nature of the teaching of Jesus reminds me of an observation by C. S. Lewis.   In Mere Christianity he writes, “Either he was, and is, the Son of God: or else a mad man or something worse.”   The claims Jesus makes about himself are existentially radical.  They disturb us.  We cannot remain neutral before them.     

What Jesus teaches in the Gospel today should throw cold water into the face of complacency.  “I am the living bread” begins a cascade of statements by Jesus that are equally challenging, like “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54).    What are we to make of these teachings?   One thing is certain.  Either Jesus means what He says or He does not.  It is radical.  We either deny it or accept it, and if we accept His teaching, then only by faith can we grasp it.  As St. Thomas Aquinas states in his great poetic hymn (Pange lingua) to celebrate today’s feast of Corpus Christi, “Faith alone may safely guide us/ Where the senses cannot lead.”   The teachings of Christ call us to faith.   

By chance the date chosen to celebrate wedding anniversaries in our diocese falls on this glorious Sunday of Corpus Christi.  In marriage we also celebrate faith.  And I want to say thank you to all the couples here for your radical witness.  Thank you for your Eucharistic faith, your faithful attendance at Mass, your work to build a domestic Church in your homes, your desire to pass this challenging faith on to your children.  Thanks to you, our faithfully married couples, we have a witness that the world today desperately needs.  In the “old days,” we presumed a great deal.  Today we can presume nothing.  Married life is difficult enough, but made even more challenging by the economic, social, and cultural changes that we see taking place.  Not all of these changes, it must be said, are for the better.  The very fabric of our social order is jeopardized when marriage is redefined.  The union of one man and one woman in fidelity and mutual giving is essential.  Our preaching is important to restate this truth, but the faithful witness to a marriage well lived is worth more than a thousand words.  For this reason we thank you.    

We must admit that there are those who find the Church’s teaching on marriage hard to grasp.  We judge no one.   As a pastor of parishes for over 25 years, I know there are difficulties which are known only to those who endure them.  We must support them when and where we can.  We must reach out to them, love them and pray for them.  But when we have a challenge, we solve nothing by sabotaging the fundamental institutions of society or ignoring the accumulated wisdom of centuries.  The Shepherd does not apologize for calling the stray sheep back to the fold.  There can be no apologies for what serves the common good or reflects Christ’s teaching.  To this fundamental good, all of you witness by celebrating wedding anniversaries today.   You say to us that marriage is good, that perseverance and forgiveness are possible, and that children are the proper end of the marital union.    You teach us that the most valuable things in life are embraced in faith.   
Let us look once again at the challenging words of Jesus in the Gospel.  When He spoke the words we just heard, many of His disciples said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60).   And they walked away.  Jesus did not call them back.  He offered no explanation.  He did not say that He was speaking symbolically.   He did not apologize.   He had spoken the truth, and his listeners had either to accept it or reject it.  He was either “the living bread” or He was not.  He was either the Son of God or, in the words of C. S. Lewis, a “mad man.”  His words challenged the listeners to faith. 

Faithfully married couples today offer us a challenge too.  They witness to the union of husband and wife, tested by trials known only to them but faced with courageous faith.  Like gold tested in the furnace, they rise from the fire purified.  

 I could tell you many stories but I will share one with you now.  A few months ago, I visited with a couple that I married 25 years ago.   We were having dinner and reminiscing.   Finally, at one point in the conversation, they looked at each other and said to me, “We love each other more today than on the day you witnessed our marriage.”  They had persevered.  They had lived the daily give-and-take of marriage.  But they had accomplished much more.  They had accepted the challenge of Jesus not to walk away but instead to embrace not only each other but also the sacrifices that perfected their love.   They believed.  They had faith.  I cannot tell you how encouraged I was when I left their company. 

And I feel that same encouragement today, on the great Solemnity of Corpus Christi.  We profess our faith in the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.  We have chosen not to walk away but to embrace the truth of Christ’s teaching.   We give thanks to God for the couples who also embrace this same Eucharistic faith and say “yes” to Christ.   They embrace each other in love and allow God’s grace to overcome daunting trials and the light of faith to guide them through unchartered regions.  We give thanks for your witness to faith.  We give thanks for Eucharistic faith.