Feast of Corpus Christi
Bishop of Lake Charles
Feast of Corpus Christi
June 14, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” Exodus 24:8
There is a scene in a movie that remains in my mind like the fragrance of incense does in a church after long ceremonies have finished. The scene involves a brother and sister. The brother is the famous French poet, Paul Claudel, the sister, Camille, the budding sculptor, student of Rodin. Both were raised without religion, the father being anti-clerical and an agnostic. But now Paul is on the eve of his conversation to Catholicism, and his sister approaches him incredulously. How could he do such a thing? What does this conversion to faith mean, this embracing of faith by one who was taught that religion was a relic of a mythic past, an outmoded vestige of a primitive era? Paul answers simply and directly. The reason is “Dieu est,” “God is.” Simply, God is. That “God is” has implications. If He is not, then nothing is required. If He is, then everything becomes necessary.
This statement is a profound reflection on the nature of faith. Man has challenged God about His existence from the beginning. Man bargains with God in prayer. “If you do this, then I will do that.” Man even at times threatens God. “God cannot exist,” Man shouts, “because there is injustice and innocent suffering in the world.” He often fashions God into his own image, as do the proponents of New Age spirituality, saying, “We must find God within ourselves. Nature is God. We are God.” Amidst all this shouting and argument of the modern age, the simple insight of Paul Claudel is a striking contrast: God is!
If God is, then He needs no justification. He needs no one to justify His existence. If He merely is, then it is we who must question ourselves, not we Him. The benefit of the doubt rests not with us who can choose between believing God’s existence or not. If God is, then He is the beginning and the end, and we are subordinate to Him. We are His creation. That some refuse to believe betrays our inability to understand the world and to embrace a timely acceptance of the obvious. God is, and the burden of proof to the contrary rests with those who would say He is not.
God’s existence is essential to our belief in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a celebration of presence, and to be present one must exist. God lives, and His presence in the Eucharist is assured. In the face of presence what do we do about our fears? About death? What of it? Jesus says, “The one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6:57). Jesus knew that death was a problem, a stumbling block. Death either calls us to faith or it leads us to fear and eventual cynicism. Life exists after death, and this truth lies at the very heart of what Jesus says in His instruction about His flesh and blood as true food and drink. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,” He says, “has eternal life” (John 6:54). The Eucharist is a presence that betokens life, for presence belongs to the living. “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).
When we come to Mass, “God is” for us. He exists, and the sacramental presence under forms of bread and wine remind us not only that we live, but also that we will live forever. In communion we approach life, not the desert of this world but the shepherd who leads us to life. “I came,” Jesus taught, “so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
In the Eucharist we say “no” to death, “no” to despair, “no” to cynicism and disbelief. We say “no” to those who would say “no” to us. God is. He lives. When his sister challenged him about his conversion, Claudel offered the simplest defense of all. God is. He needs no further explanation. He wants only love. He thirsts only for truth. He wants to share His existence with us. We commune with Him to live. The only real death is the death of sin, and for the Christian the only death we really should want is the death to self. To say “God is” means “I am.” This is our “Amen” to Holy Communion, a profession of faith, an acceptance that “God is”, an embracing of eternal life here and now. As the sacred author of Hebrews writes: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Hebrews 9:14).