Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Miracle of the Eucharist: a homily for Corpus Christi

There's an ancient church in a village called O Cebreiro on a mountaintop in Galicia in North West Spain.  It’s on the Camino de Santiago, and it’s the first village you come to in Galicia after yet another steep climb straight up the side of a mountain. When I got there in 2013 it was starting to rain heavily and a strong wind was blowing - it's about three and a half thousand feet above sea level . The church was open and staffed by a small community of very welcoming Franciscans. In the church there is an ancient 10th century wooden statue of the Virgin and child - formal, but full of life and, like the church itself,  possessing a deep sense of stillness and peace.  

But by far the best known story about the church at O Cebreiro is that sometime in the fourteenth century a peasant farmer from a neighbouring village struggled there through a terrible winter storm, risking his life to do so, for the sole reason that he really wanted to go to  Mass and receive Holy Communion. The priest presiding at the Eucharist, a man, we are told, of very little faith, found this altogether too much, for he didn’t value the Eucharist nearly as much as did the farmer. And as the peasant approached to receive communion, the priest cynically looked at him and despised him for the naïve faith and devotion that led him to risk his life just to participate in the Mass - just for, as the priest thought to himself "a little piece of bread.“ But at that very moment, when he said the words of Our Lord, "This is my body ... this is my blood ..." before the doubting priest's own eyes and in his own hands, the consecrated Wine in the chalice turned into physical blood and the consecrated Host on the paten became physical flesh, visibly the very Body and Blood of Christ. 
This was clearly the Lord’s own way of correcting his priest’s scepticism, his lack of faith and love, and his arrogance toward a humble countryman who, in fact , was far richer in faith and understanding than he was himself. We are told the priest repented of his cynicism, and according to tradition, both men are now buried together in the small side chapel where the chalice and paten of the Eucharistic Miracle are still displayed.

I tell the story - not to bang on about the Camino de Santiago - as you know I don’t need any excuse to do that - but because it is so easy - fatally easy - to take the Eucharist for granted; after all, it’s just what the Church does when we come together to worship. It’s just there; its what we do when we come to church.
But, of course, that won’t do at all,  because the Eucharist should above all fill us with wonder. There is a profound mystery here hidden beneath the ordinary material things of life, the bread and wine of an everyday meal. These are commonplace realities of human living taken and given by the Lord and which we in our turn receive and drink. They have Biblical resonance too -  the bread eaten in haste by God’s people before the Exodus from Egypt, the wine which has echoes of  the banquet of the Kingdom of heaven, as Our Lord calls it,  where the Saints rejoice for ever in the presence of God...

What we have here is no less than the mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising given to us in a 
sacramental form. Jesus at the Last Supper acts out in advance his sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under the forms of bread and wine gives himself to us so that we can receive his Easter life. The presence of Christ is with us always; but here at the altar he is really and substantially present as he is at no other time.
This is the mysterious, sacrificial meal of God’s people; by it we are given the grace to increase in faith, in hope, in love,  and become more like the Lord who lives within us and around us and beyond us. Here the link between faith and life, between belief and living out that belief,  is made explicit. The link between the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbour is spelled out here and becomes possible...

This is the food for our journey from the people we once were to the people we are called to become, from the shadows and images of this life to the blazing clarity of light of the kingdom of heaven. This is the present pledge and seal of the future hope of our perfect unity and communion with God. Here we receive the life of the Resurrection - the life of Christ himself - and that is the daily, weekly, miracle of the Eucharist which we celebrate today. 

1 comment:

  1. The statue and the church are lovely, as is your account. You can go on all you want about the Camino de Santiago. I find it fascinating!


Anonymous comments will not be published