Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ways to the Heart


Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ (A)

Picture: cc laszy

My dear friends, can you complete this sentence for me? The way to a man’s heart is… There is, as you know, a variety of possible answers. The usual and most well-known one is, of course, his stomach. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But other responses are possible too. For example, I recently watched a TED talk, in which the speaker argues that the way to a man’s heart is actually through his brain.

There are also those who will be quick to point out that all this can just as easily be said about women. The way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach… or her brain… Although some terribly wicked people maintain that the way to a woman’s heart is actually through her sole. Spelt S-O-L-E. As in the soles of her expensive Prada shoes.

Whatever it may be. Whether the stomach, or the brain, or something else entirely. The fact remains that these things are not the true focus of the discussion. Important though they may be, they are not the final destination. As far as the saying goes, the stomach and the brain are important only as ways to reach another location. Efforts are made to fill the stomach, or to entertain the brain, only as a means finally to connect with the heart. Heartfelt connection. Authentic relationship. This is what we seek. This is what makes life worth living.

And it’s helpful to keep this in mind especially today, when we celebrate Corpus Christi. The solemn feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. What exactly is this feast about? What are we really celebrating? At first glance, it may seem that it is only a matter of stomachs being filled. For, in the gospel, Jesus scandalises his listeners by referring to himself in terms of food. I am the living bread, he says, which has come down from heaven…. the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world… 

And yet, we would be greatly mistaken, if we were to think that the Lord’s main concern here is only to fill up empty stomachs. Important though it may be to provide food for the hungry, in this particular passage, the stomach is important only as a way to the heart. That is how we draw life from the Lord. By allowing him to establish a connection with our heart.

But how do we eat and drink in such a way that our hearts are touched? Indeed, how often does this actually happen to us? Aren’t the vast majority of our meals not simply a matter of routine? To the extent that we don’t even pay much attention to what we might be stuffing into our mouths? Let alone where it came from or the hands that prepared it? Occupied as we often are with all that happens on the screens of our smartphones? How does one eat in such a way that the stomach truly becomes a way to the heart?

We find an answer in the first reading. Where, after forty long years of wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel are finally preparing to cross the river Jordan, to enter and occupy the Promised Land. Before they set out, Moses gathers them for a final pep talk. He encourages them to do one crucially important thing. Not so much to fill their stomachs with food, as to occupy their minds with memories. Remember, he says. Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart… Remember how God freed you from slavery. Guided you through the wilderness. Fed you with manna. Brought you water from the rock. Do not become proud of heart. Do not forget the Lord your God… Remember… Remember… Remember…

In the first reading, Moses urges the people to exercise their brains. To occupy their minds. To remember all that God has done and continues to do for them. Why? So that the food that God has provided them, with which they have filled their stomachs, might not only nourish their bodies, and then be quickly forgotten. But that it may serve also to touch their hearts. So that, even as they now enter a fertile land, where they can grow their own food, they may not forget all the blessings they have received. So that they may take care always to remain connected to God. To allow God to connect with them. To keep them connected to one another. For this is the true meaning of life. Man does not live on bread alone but… on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Food for the stomach. Accompanied by memories for the mind. Leading to connections of the heart. This is also what we find in the second reading. In which St. Paul explains the true meaning of what we do every time we gather, as we are gathered now, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion, a connection, with the blood of Christ. The bread that we break is a communion, a connection, with the body of Christ. This is what we are meant to experience, whenever we participate fully and actively and consciously at Mass. Food for the stomach. Accompanied by memories for the mind. Leading to connections of the heart. This is what it means to celebrate the Eucharist. And, by extension, to engage in the practice of Eucharistic Adoration.

This is also what it means to live Eucharistic lives. To allow not just what passes into our stomachs, but also everything that we experience in daily life–the bad as much as the good, the desolations as much as the consolations–to allow all our experiences to be continually coloured by our memories of God’s super-abundant love for us in Christ. Memories that we have in common. But also memories that are quite personal to each of us. Memories of our blessings. Memories that allow us always to remain connected deep within our hearts. Connected to God. Connected to one another. Connected also especially to those who may continue to have to struggle to fill their stomachs with good food. Struggle to occupy their minds with pleasing memories. Struggle to warm their hearts with loving connections.

Heartfelt connection. Authentic life-giving relationship. This is what Corpus Christi is all about. In a world where life often seems to revolve only around the more superficial things, like food and entertainment and footwear, we Christians are called to bear witness to the deeper more important concern of establishing and maintaining heartfelt connections.

My dear sisters and brothers, if it is indeed true that the way to someone’s heart is through the stomach, then how is God connecting with your heart today?

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