Sunday, June 14, is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Mass readings: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58.
We all admire heroic self-sacrifice. We marvel at the capacity to put aside one’s own safety and needs in order to serve and even save another. On a recent weekend people gathered on the property where I live (since it is a relatively high hill) to catch a glimpse of a flyover to honor the health-care workers of our city. From vigorous young children to those needing a helping hand, we all strained for a glimpse of this well-earned sign of gratitude.
Several years ago a guest speaker from the U.S. military came on career day to address students at the school where I was teaching. She said that you seldom saw on the news a sight she would never forget. She was serving in a fragile and often violent zone. One day after a bombing, military personnel scrambled to set up a temporary hospital. She recounted that a long line of soldiers awaited their turn to donate blood — blood that would be used to save the lives of those on both sides of the conflict.
The prototype of such amazing self-gift is the Gift we celebrate in today’s solemnity: the infinite outpouring of Love that is Jesus’ gift of his Body and Blood for and to us. In the first reading we read of the divine gift of manna given by God to the Israelites in the desert. The people were plagued by hunger, and in their need they discovered the providential care of the Lord, who not only delivered them from servitude, but fed them in their every need. Moses exhorts the people never to forget a God who frees and feeds his children.
We all know that we need food to survive, but we hunger at a much more profound level than merely bodily hunger. Jesus did feed hungry crowds with bread and fish in his three short years of public ministry, but he also wanted to feed our souls. He knew that our deepest hunger is not for bread alone, but for love. So when he foretold the gift of the Eucharist, he promised his disciples, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56).
When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the hymn that became the sequence for this feast day, he sang of the self-giving love of Jesus, a love that stays with us in every moment of the pilgrimage of life and that endures unto eternity: “Very bread, Good Shepherd, tend us, / Jesu, of your love befriend us, / You refresh us, you defend us, / Your eternal goodness send us / In the land of life to see.”
What will we remember as life returns to “normal” after days of pandemic? What will endure beyond changed schedules and canceled plans? Hopefully, we will remember those who, in sometimes hidden ways, lived the self-gift that is willing to give of time, strength and even health, that another might live. May we remember to thank these heroes. Today as we look up at the Body and Blood of Jesus given up for us, may we have Eucharistic hearts, hearts full of thanks that his self-gift has not ceased at our altars nor has its pattern faded from our streets and our homes.
Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a Dominican Sister of the St.
Cecilia Congregation in
Nashville. She received her doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum in Rome and
currently teaches religion and philosophy at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore.