Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Homily for Parish Feast of Corpus Christi Day 1: "The Church is Catholic: Being Rich in Mercy"

Guest Preacher: Fr Simon Yong SJ

I have a two-part homily. First half is today. Tomorrow the other half.

What is so special about today? A lot of Screwpine leaves have been cut. We are lucky that nature has endowed the Pandan with such an unbelievable fragrance that the chopped leaves can substitute for expensive petals.

Firstly, a short history of the Solemnitas Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi.

If we were to commemorate this feast, the most appropriate day should be Holy Thursday as it marks the day the Sacrament of the most holy Eucharist was instituted. But, on Maundy Thursday, the Church must accompany her Lord in His Passion that it is not possible to celebrate Corpus Christi as a festivity. The next free Thursday is after Pentecost but at one time in Church calendar, Pentecost itself had an octave. So, finally, the Church settled on the next Thursday available which is after Trinity Sunday. For the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, since Corpus Christ is not a Day of Obligation, it is transferred to a Sunday.

Secondly, it is not that old a practice—probably 800 years old. Tradition has it that a 13th century nun, St Juliana of Liège, who had developed a strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, initiated a form of commemorating the Body and Blood of Christ. Pope Urban IV, in response to a Eucharistic miracle that took place in Orvieto, commanded its universal observance in AD1264. St Thomas Aquinas composed the Pange Lingua (Sing my tongue, the Saviour's glory) of which the last two stanzas form the familiar Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration) we sing at the end of the Benediction.

Last night, a point was made that there are nuances to the notion we use rather freely: The Body of Christ. For example, the Altar is a symbol of the Body of Christ that at the Consecration, Jesus is all at once, Priest through the ordained minister, the Victim offered in the Bread and Wine and finally He is the Altar of Sacrifice. And there is more. At Mass, the Body of Christ, meaning you and me, gather to witness the changing of the substances of Bread and Wine into the substance of the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ also partakes of the sacred Body of Christ. At Mass, therefore, the faithful signals that they, even though belonging to the Mystical Body of Christ would very much like to be transformed into the likeness of Christ Himself. Though sinners, we are bound together in the one desire to be like Christ and this is actualised by the fact that a priest can be processing next to a prostitute, a preacher next to a sinner, a philosopher next to a coolie. The stations we have remind us that that salvation must reach the four corners of the world.

There is a two-way process involved in eating and it is best described by the word assimilation. When you eat non-stop, the assimilation takes place through the process of absorption. If you feast on two super-sized McDonald's Quarter-pounders, breakfast, tea, lunch, tea, dinner and supper, you can be sure, Kungfu Panda will lose to you in cuteness. Or like the Borg in Star Trek, "Resistance is futile", the Borg grows in size through assimilation. But, the process of assimilation is different when we partake of the Eucharist. Assimilation is the growing in likeness as in growing in similarity. We become more like Christ.

Today, another expression of assimilation takes place and it is through the Procession. 

There is a pilgrimage which is famous that has attracted thousands who do not even believe. It is known as the Camino Santiago or the St James’ Way. For whatever reasons people embark on a pilgrimage, for us Catholics, pilgrimages are sacramental because they represent our life’s journey. If you think about it, for many of us, our life's pilgrimage resembles more of a funeral procession, as if, we carry death on our shoulders.

But, life’s journey has a goal. You may have heard it said that, the journey is the goal but in the Eucharistic procession, the journey is not the goal. Instead, the procession simulates the pilgrimage of life as we make our way to heaven in the company of no less than God Himself. So, as we carry the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we are also witnessing to an unbelieving world that we bear in our hearts the hope for heaven. This may be a lacrimarum vale, a valley of tears—for we are exiled children of Eve. We pine and we toil. But, we are not defeated. No matter how difficult life is, He comes to join us in this journey home. Finally, we are full of ourselves. I am full of myself. The procession reminds me that this journey I make is together with the Lord. It is not a test of my strength but a challenge of my faith and trust in Him. He is with us. We fear not.

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