Saturday, June 1, 2013

Symbol or Presence?

Reflections on the Readings
June 2, 2013 - The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ - Year C

Symbol or Presence?

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

There are words that invite the imagination to soar. I'm thinking of words like boundless, bottomless (like a bottomless well), splendor, beauty, and grandeur. Our list could include words such as immeasurable, limitless, infinite, and unfathomable. Words creatively crafted to tell a story help us to imaginatively taste exotic foods and touch beautiful things and tremble at things untouchable. Moments in time and  special events also powerfully impact us so that years later those moments are near to us.  

Thanksgiving Day in 2006 is especially memorable for me. Daddy died May 20th of that same year. Now with both Mom and Dad gone, I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, Rachel, and her family in Oklahoma. My sisters, Rachel and Mary Rose, my wife Debbie, and my sister-in-law, Jill, all set themselves to preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Their goal was to make everything the way Mom made it. So they cooked the Turkey and dressing, mashed the potatoes, seasoned the green beans, and prepared every dish and made every dessert according to mom's recipes and style. 

When we sat down at the table the aroma of Mom's kitchen wafted through the air. I led in prayer for this beautiful moment and I thought that I would see Mom and Dad at the table when I lifted my head at the Amen. And then with every bite, I was back home, sitting around the table with my folks and brothers and sisters. Every thing tasted the way Mom would have made it. And any moment I expected Mom and Dad to be sitting with us at that Thanksgiving meal. You will understand if I say it was both bitter and sweet. But mostly, it was healing. Healing we all needed. A healing that only recipes from Mom's kitchen could give us.

I'm not going to quote the statistics about how many Catholics no longer or never did believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. No, I'm not going to beat you up if you are in that number. Nor am I going to berate my Protestant brothers and sisters who believe that the Bread and the Wine are only symbols. Instead, I'm going to ask a question. And that question is simply, "Why not? Why do you not believe that Christ is present in the breaking of the bread and the wine is now his blood?"

I can imagine many answers to my question. And I would agree with you that it seems preposterous to believe that the consecrated bread and wine is the Body and Blood of Jesus. It defies all of our senses and in some ways may seem utterly repugnant. But if we believe, and we do, that Christ can be in us, then why can't he be in that bread and in that wine? If the Holy Spirit can cause our hearts to be the dwelling place of the most High, then why can't Christ be really present, body and soul and divinity, in the only meal that has defined the Christian faith for 21 centuries? It has been this holy food, celebrated and discerned by believers for 2,013 years, as the sacred meal Jesus left us to feed our souls. 

Several years ago I was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. My Bishop shared how he taught the Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist one time at the Cathedral. During Halloween he spotted a Chalice at a store on which were all manner of Satanic images and symbols. He bought it to use for an illustration he intended share with his Cathedral family the next Sunday. During his homily he held that cup up and said, "If I filled this cup with wine and invoked the name of Satan over this wine and then invited you to drink it, would you receive it?" Immediately there was a collective gasp. Then he asked, "Why then, when I offer you the Body and Blood of Christ, you do not believe that it is Jesus I give you?"

St. Ambrose, speaking about the conversion of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ says, "Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature."

The Thanksgiving meal memory I shared above gave me and my brothers and sisters and our families a wonderful way to remember the life and love of Mom and Dad. The Holy Eucharist, however, brings Christ to us. This Sacred meal changes us and empowers us to know Christ more deeply. It inspires our hearts to be aware of the presence of Christ in the fullest sense. Our bodies transform the natural food we eat into the energy and sustenance our bodies need to keep functioning. The Body and Blood of Christ changes us. This Food transforms us more and more into the image of him who loved us and gave himself for us. It is not magic; it is the mystery of being touched by the power of Christ's indestructible life. And as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, Christ touches us with his endless life, until we shall see him as he is. This is our hope. It is this hope that purifies us until Christ comes again! Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail him at:   Visit him at:



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