Fr Brennan Manning is a Franciscan priest who tells the following story about his mother and her neighbour. Mrs Manning was a lady in her mid-seventies. Her day centred on going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist. Because she volunteered at a local drug rehabilitation centre every morning at 7.30am, the only Mass she could attend was at 5:30am. Across the road from her lived a very successful lawyer in his mid-thirties. He was married with two children. The man wasn’t a church goer, and was particularly critical of people who went to church every day. Driving home from a late party at 5.00am one January morning, the roads glassy with ice, he said to his wife, referring to Mrs. Manning, “I bet you that the old lady won’t be out this morning”. But to his shock, as he rounded the corner into their street, there she was on hands and knees negotiating the hill up to the Church. He went home, got into bed and tried to sleep, but couldn’t. A few hours later he got out of bed and went to the local parish office and asked to see a priest. “Padre,” he said, “I am not one of yours. In fact, I have no religion. But could you tell me what do you have in this church that can make an old woman crawl up here on her hands and knees on an icy morning?” That was the day that Mrs Manning’s neighbour began his conversion to faith in Jesus, along with his wife and family.
Mrs. Manning had never studied theology or probably wouldn’t have been able to explain how a piece of bread became the body of Christ, but she knew what it was to meet Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is the bread of life, and she knew it.
Today, as we reflect on the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, we are reminded that what we do here is meant to shape the rest of our lives, just as it shaped the life of Mrs Manning. When we say yes to Christ in the Eucharist, we are saying yes to living lives that put Christ at the centre. The early Christians knew this. Their lives looked substantially different to the people around them – they stood out from the crowd, because of the way they lived.
In fact their lives attracted so much attention, that many wild rumours abounded about what the Christians actually taught and did at their meetings. To clear the air, a church leader by the name of Tertullian wrote a short explanation of Christian practices. He wrote “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See how they love one another, they say, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, they say, for they themselves will sooner put to death (The Apology Ch. 39).”
The Christian way is animated by love. It is recognised in the way that people give and receive rather than the way people take and hoard. This contrast can be seen in the difference between the first Adam, as in Adam and Eve, and the second Adam, Jesus. In the book of Genesis we hear how Adam took the forbidden fruit, which ultimately led to the fall of humanity, with sin entering the world. Contrast this with the life of Jesus, who gave his life for all and restored love as the measure of what it is to be human.
This action is echoed in today’s gospel, when we hear the story of the feeding of the 5000. (Luke 9:11-17). In that story, the Lord knew that the people who had gathered to listen to him were hungry. His response was to give. He took the bread and fish, blessed them, broke them and gave them to the crowd, actions that foreshadow the events of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist where Jesus took the bread and wine, blessed them, broke them, gave them, all actions that we witness every time we celebrate the eucharist. Luke wants us to make the connection between what we do every time we participate in the eucharist, and the lived reality that they signify.
Every time we come to share in the Eucharist we are making the choice to share in the life of Christ, the 2nd Adam, a life that invites us to give and receive with love, rather than the life of the first Adam, which is about taking and self-importance, characteristics that ultimately bring destruction.
Sometimes, when we are faced with the challenges of being Christ in the world, we can feel somewhat overwhelmed – the hunger is so great and our resources so few. And so maybe we are inclined to be more like the first Adam, thinking of ourselves first. What can we do differently? At times like that it is important to remember that we are not expected to fix the world, but we are asked to continue to look outward, rather than focus on our need alone. When we reflect on today’s gospel story we see how Jesus took the little offering of 5 loves and two fish – and somehow in his hands, it was enough. Every time we share in the Eucharist, we are invited to take the little we have, and join our lives with Christ, and he will do the rest. Mrs Manning knew this, and so made sure to centre her day on the eucharist. We can do the same.
I want to finish with a prayer of thanksgiving by Padre Pio which somehow recognises how much of a challenge it is to put out trust daily in the Lord. It goes:
“Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life, and without You, I am without fervour.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light, and without You, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much, and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of love.
Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close, and life passes; death, judgment, eternity approach. I need your presence and your love to renew my strength.”
Stay with me Lord…