Persevering Faith in the Holy Eucharist, Fifth Thursday (I), February 12, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Chapel of the Corporal, Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, Orvieto, Italy
Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist
February 12, 2015
Gen 2:18-25, Ps 128, Mk 7:24-30

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • In Jesus’ interaction with the Syro-Phoenician Woman, on the face of it the Lord Jesus looks anything but kind and merciful. St. Matthew gives us many more details than St. Mark does today. When she first approaches Jesus asking her for a miracle for her daughter, the Lord ignores her. When she harasses the apostles begging for their intervention and they ask Jesus on her behalf, Jesus stresses he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not to pagan women in Phoenicia. When she continues to pursue and falls down begging, “Please, Lord!,” he replies by saying, “It’s not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But she still doesn’t give up. She retorts, “But even the little dogs eat the scraps that comes from their master’s table.” At this, Jesus replies, “Woman, great is your faith” and performs an immediate exorcism on her daughter at a distance. Why did Jesus behave in this way? It wasn’t because he was cruel or unsympathetic. It was precisely because he loved the woman and was helping her to grow in faith, the type of persevering faith and prayer that God wants to develop and see in all of us. Her persistence led to one of the greatest compliments Jesus is ever recorded giving.
  • This type of growth in faith through persevering prayer is very helpful for us to understand the Eucharistic miracle of Ovieto and Bolsena here at the Chapel of the Bloody Corporal that is the lasting memory of this great miracle. It features a Czech priest, Father Peter of Prague, who had lost his faith in the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is possible for priests to lose their faith in the Eucharist. They can start to take for granted that what starts out as mere bread and wine in theirs hands totally changes, after a few words, into the Body and Blood of the God-man, Jesus, even though all the appearances of the bread and wine remain. Father Peter began to feel like a hypocrite celebrating the Eucharist while having some doubts about whether the Lord Jesus was truly there. But he hadn’t yet lost his faith in God and, hence, decided to give God the opportunity to give him that faith by doing something quite drastic. In 1263, he decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome, to pray at the tomb of his patron, St. Peter, for the gift of renewed faith in the Eucharist. This was a drastic move, because to make a pilgrimage to Rome was quite an undertaking then. Today we can hop on a plane at Logan airport and arrive in Rome eight hours later. To make a pilgrimage from Prague to Rome in 1263, however, would have meant walking 851 miles, like walking from Fall River to Cincinnati, Ohio or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. At twenty miles a day, it would have taken a month and a half, one way. Despite the hardship and sacrifice, however, Peter went, desperate to save his priesthood and save his faith. Why did he make the pilgrimage to St. Peter in Rome? There were tombs of saints and pilgrimage destinations much closer to Prague, but Father Peter did not choose any of them. He went to the tomb of his patron because St. Peter has always been an example to the whole Church of faith in the Eucharist. We remember what happened at the end of the scene in today’s Gospel when Jesus in the Synagogue of Capernaum talked about the reality of the Eucharist for the first time. He told his listeners that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would have no life in them, and the one who ate His flesh and drank His blood would have eternal life. St. John tells us that many of the disciples, those for whom the Lord had worked so hard for the previous two years to bring to the truth, walked away, thinking that Jesus was mentally ill, teaching them the necessity of cannibalism. They complained, saying, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?” Jesus then turned to His closest followers, the Twelve, and asked them, “Do you also wish to go away?” None of them could have understood what Jesus was talking about any better than those who had just abandoned Jesus. It would take a year before what Jesus was saying would make any sense, when Jesus, during the Last Supper, took bread and wine into His hands and changed them into His body and blood, saying. “This is my body”; “This is the chalice of my blood.” Nevertheless, even though they didn’t understand truly what Jesus was saying and why He was saying it, St. Peter stood up after the Lord asked whether they, too, would leave Him over His teaching on the Eucharist, and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”That’s the reason why Father Peter of Prague made the pilgrimage to Rome, to ask for faith in Christ’s words just like his St. Peter had. He finally arrived after a long and lengthy journey. He prayed for a few weeks in front of the tomb of his patron, but after all of that, it seemed as if nothing had happened. Thus Fr. Peter started to question his entire faith in God. Hadn’t Jesus said that whoever knocked would have the door opened, whoever asked would receive, whoever sought would find? Hadn’t He said that the Father knows how to give good things to His children? Yet when Father Peter, a priest, had asked for something so important for him to be a good disciple and apostle of the Lord — faith in the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist — it seemed like he had come up empty. So, crestfallen, he began his journey north, now with very little faith at all. He was traveling in a group of returning pilgrims, because there was safety in numbers in warding off bandits who would wait in hiding to ambush individual travelers. When it came to be Sunday, members of the group asked Fr. Peter if he might celebrate Mass for them. More out of courtesy than faith, he assented. They stopped at a small church dedicated to St. Christina in Bolsena, Italy, and celebrated Mass on a side altar. Right before the “Lamb of God,” when Father Peter broke the host, as a priest always does to put a particle into the chalice, the host in his hands began to bleed over his hands and on the corporal. The people, beholding the miracle in front of their eyes, started to shriek. The priest of St. Christina’s came to see what all the commotion was about and beheld the miracle with his own eyes. They had to decide what to do with the miracle. The local priest knew that Pope Urban IV was at that time where we are now, in Orvieto, the well-fortified papal city only about 10 miles uphill from where they were, and so they went to inform the Pope of the miracle and the Pope sent the local bishop to investigate the Blood Stained Corporal. Eventually the Corporal was brought to Orvieto in a caravan of all those who had witnessed the miracle, as we can see in the frescoes over my left shoulder. We can imagine Fr. Peter’s telling Pope Urban IV his story, about how he had lost his faith in the Eucharist, made a pilgrimage to Rome, thought that the Lord hadn’t heard his prayer, but then He had made His real presence incontrovertibly present during the celebration of the Mass in Bolsena. Father Peter would have punctuated the truth of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist by saying something like, “Holy Father, bread can’t bleed.” Urban IV as a result decided to extend the Feast of Corpus Christi, which had begun in his native Belgium, to the entire Church and had St. Thomas Aquinas write the Office full of hymns and readings that would be prayed beginning the next year — hymns that we all still sing and use to this day. At first it would have seemed cruel that God didn’t respond to Fr. Peter’s prayers in Prague, or along the pilgrimage to Rome, or in front of the tomb of St. Peter. But the Lord was preparing to respond, but only after Peter was ready through persevering faith to receive the answer. And it was because the Lord waited to respond in the way that he did, that we can all profit from Fr. Peter’s petition for greater faith in Jesus’ real presence!
  • Here in front of this mystery of the Eucharistic miracle, we can ponder what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Panis Angelicus we’ll sing later, that this is the “res mirabilis,” that this is so wondrous a reality, that we, poor and humble servants, have a chance to eat the Lord. Even if Jesus doesn’t decide to let us see blood flowing at the partition of the host later today, the greatest miracle is that of transubstantiation, that God is going to come among us. It is something that should leave us in awe. Today’s first reading helps us to ponder one aspect of what the Lord Jesus wants to do in us through Holy Communion. In the first reading we see the creation of Eve and the first marriage. God made a suitable partner for Adam, who rejoiced at the creation of his wife and Genesis tells us, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” St. Paul, after citing that phrase, will tell us in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” Human marriage is based on Christ’s marriage to his Bride the Church; because Christ will never abandon us, sacramental marriage is indissoluble; because Christ is faithful, human marriage is faithful; because Christ’s marriage with us is fruitful, generating newborn Christians in the baptismal womb of the Church, so human marriage increases and multiplies. To understand what happens in the Eucharist, we need to look at it in this spousal key. The early Christians used to illustrate this reality between marriage and the Eucharist in their architecture — as we’ll see when we get to Rome — covering the altars with a baldachino just like ancient beds were covered, to communicate that the altar is the marriage bed of the union between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church. It’s here on this altar that we, Christ’s bride, in the supreme of love, receive within ourselves the body, the blood, of the divine Bridegroom, becoming one-flesh with him and made capable of bearing fruit with him in acts of love. This is the means by which we enter into one flesh union with Christ. This is the way by which we receive within Christ’s love for us and become more capable of sharing that type of love with each other. O res mirabilis indeed!
  • And so today in this holy spot we come to enter into this spousal union with the Lord Jesus. Thomas, in his Lauda Sion Salvatorem sequence he penned 751 years ago for the first Corpus Christi wrote in the climax, “Ecce panis Angelórum, Factus cibus viatórum: Vere panis fíliórum, Non mittendus cánibus.” These are words that link what we’re about to receive to today’s Gospel. “Behold the bread of Angels made the food of pilgrims. This is truly the bread of the children, not to be thrown to the dogs.” We are children of God through baptism and, even though we’d be satisfied, like the Syro-Phoenician woman, to get crumbs from the Lord’s table, God the Father gives us the greatest food ever. With persevering trust in the Lord like the woman in today’s Gospel, with newfound Eucharistic like that of Fr. Peter of Prague, let us approach to receive this food of children in the consummation of Christ’s spousal love, so that becoming one flesh, one Body with him, we might go out and allow him to make his love present in us to transform the world.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Gn 2:18-25

The LORD God said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;
whatever the man called each of them would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals;
but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,
and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs
and closed up its place with flesh.
The LORD God then built up into a woman
the rib that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one flesh.

The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (see 1a) Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Blessed are you who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.

Alleluia Jas 1:21bc

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 7:24-30

Jesus went to the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied and said to him,
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”
Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.