Sunday, June 23, 2019

Of Cooking, Consuming & Corpus Christi

Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (C)
Photo: cc Katherine Lim

My dear friends, do you like to cook? Recently I was happy to hear someone speak very enthusiastically about how much he liked to prepare food for others to enjoy. But when he went on to ask me whether I did any cooking, I was too embarrassed to admit that I practised what you might call survival cooking. I cook only to stay alive. So I responded instead by telling him that we both would actually make a great team. Since he likes to cook, and I love to eat.

I was, of course, only joking. But, although I didn’t mean to at the time, I was also making a point, wasn’t I? The point being that I don’t have to know how to cook to know how to eat. In fact, I don’t even need to know where the food I eat comes from, let alone how it was prepared. For example, a survey done back in 2012 revealed that 36% of young adults in the UK between the ages of 16 and 23 did not know that bacon comes from pigs. While 11% of them didn’t know that eggs come from chickens. And yet, ignorant though they were of the origins of bacon and eggs, we can be sure that these same young people had no difficulty enjoying it for breakfast.

This is actually so obvious to us that we don’t need to be reminded of it. We all quite naturally assume that we don’t have to know how food is produced in order to consume it ourselves. And yet, it is precisely because of this assumption of ours that we need the solemn feast of Corpus Christi.

For isn’t it true that too many of us approach the Eucharist in the same way that I responded to my friend’s question? With the unspoken assumption that we can receive its benefits without being continually mindful of its origins? I can’t be completely sure, but I suspect many of us Catholics view the Eucharist the way our society teaches us to view all the other things in our lives. Merely as an object to be consumed and nothing more. And just as I can consume most things while remaining ignorant of how they are produced, so too with the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Or so I think.

Isn’t this why some of us find the Mass so boring? Although we may be commended for making the effort to come to church on Sunday, isn’t it true that some of us are so focused on receiving Holy Communion, that we don’t feel too bad if we miss some of the other stuff that happens before and after? Anything before the gospel perhaps. And definitely everything after the host has been safely deposited into our mouths.

And yet, isn’t this also why I may find it such a challenge to appreciate the significance of what happens at Mass on Sunday for everything else that goes on in my life the rest of the week? For if the Mass is nothing more than just another opportunity to consume something, then what additional value can it possibly have for me, who already spend the rest of my life continually consuming everything else anyway?

Could this be why it’s possible for me to even spend long periods in the adoration room, consuming the sacred host with my eyes, without necessarily experiencing any improvement in how I relate to the world outside? Without my becoming any less selfish and any more loving?

Could it be, my dear friends, that my tendency to separate the consumption of the Eucharist from its origins actually prevents me from receiving its benefits? For isn’t it striking that, in our Mass readings today, the consumption of spiritual food is intimately connected with its production?

In the second reading – which, as you know, is the same one we read on Holy Thursday – Jesus offers food to his disciples in a very particular way. First, the Lord performs several specific preparatory actions. The same actions that he performs in the gospel, and which the priest performs at Mass. The Lord takes and blesses (or gives thanks). He then breaks and gives. Second, the disciples are asked to do this as a memorial of me. To ensure that every time they prepare and consume the Eucharistic food, they bear firmly in their minds and hearts its true source. Its deeper origin, not just at the Table of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, but also, ultimately, on the Wood of the Cross on Good Friday. For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming (the Lord’s) death.

It is only by doing this, by preparing food the way Christ prepares it – while simultaneously recalling the Lord’s loving sacrifice on the Cross – that we, who call ourselves his followers, are able to do what Jesus tells his disciples to do in the gospel. Give them something to eat yourselves. Not to remain focused only on consuming what is offered to us. But to also be mindful of the need to feed the crowds of people who still experience a hunger the world cannot satisfy.

At the Eucharistic Table, my dear friends, those who are fed are also motivated and empowered to feed others as well. Those who truly receive the Gift of Christ’s Life, are prompted to make a return gift of their own lives. Allowing themselves to be taken and blessed, broken and given. So that other lives might be nourished as well.

In this way, all of us who claim to follow Christ truly become his Body. Through him, with him, and in him, we too become priests like Melchizedek of old. A people whose lives are a blessing to God and to others. And, in this way too, the prayer that we offered at the beginning of Mass finds its answer. This is the proper way for us so to revere the sacred mysteries of (the Lord’s) Body and Blood, that we may always experience in ourselves the fruit of (His) redemption. For, contrary to the assumption I had when responding to my friend’s question, we can only be nourished by the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ by participating fully and actively in its production. At the Table of the Lord, I can only eat by also learning how to cook.

Sisters and brothers, if all this is true – if our being fed by the Lord is intimately connected to the feeding of others as well – then what must we do, both as individuals and as a community, to become better chefs today?

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