Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Corpus Christ 2018
Thursday, May 31, 2018
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” Hebrews 9:12
The author of the liturgical texts for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is no one less than St. Thomas Aquinas. In his sermon for this day The Angelic Doctor stretched back to the Old Testament for an image of why the gift of the Eucharist is so important to us. He quoted the Book of Deuteronomy (4:7): “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us?”
Israel’s joy is its election. God has chosen His people, made a nation of them, given them His pledge, and bound them to Himself in a covenant. There is joy in being selected. We relish being singled out. And this selection is not necessarily a cause for pride. It is more a joy we sense when we say, “Who? Me?” We can resonate with Israel’s rejoicing when we read, “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us?” He has led us out of Egypt. He has made us walk through the Red Sea. He has conquered Pharaoh’s army. He has fed us with manna in the desert. Who is there like unto Him?
If we can grasp even a small part of the awe and wonder of Israel expressing its marvelous election, then we can come nearer to grasping what we should feel in the presence of the Holy Eucharist. God is near to us. This is what the Eucharist means.
We are God’s elect. He has chosen us. This Divine condescension should strike us as humbling and, at the same time, fill us with gratitude and wonder. We are not worthy of this gift. We are unworthy and, yet, God has come and visited His people. He has entered their precinct and He abides.
That God would allow an unworthy minister of His Son to take into his hands simple bread, pronounce words that are as unprecedented as the intention which formulates them, and to be an instrument of His presence in the world—this is majestic, this is reason to pause, this is the Sacrifice of our Redemption.
Christ “entered once for all into the sanctuary” and here upon our altar the mystery of that sacrifice is relived. He entered “not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12). And there on every Catholic altar that one and only offering is lifted up.
God is indeed near to us. We have nothing to fear, except our own unworthiness. As St. Paul will write, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27).
We must not allow this nearness of God to intimidate us. Instead it should inspire us. We should be so inspired as to put aside those obstacles that impede the entrance of God into our lives—the doubts, the reservations, the fears, and, yes, the sinfulness. And what replaces these internal struggles? Our adoration.
One of the greatest, certainly the largest monastery in Europe during the Middle Ages was the Abbey of Cluny. Scholars and historians (e.g. J. A. Jungmann) tell us that when the monks of this great abbey went to receive Holy Communion, they removed their shoes. Like Moses approaching the burning bush, they were in the presence of God. They stepped out of their shoes because they were stepping out of themselves. An act of humility and adoration, yes, and when joined to belief, an act of faith as well.
Corpus Christi invites us to make this act of faith once again. God is near us. He has chosen us to receive His greatest gift. We can only remain humbled, grateful and silent before so great a mystery. He is near to us.
Bishop Glen John Provost