One in the Body of Christ

Tom Bartolomeo
Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ C 2013
Genesis 14; 18-20; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26;
Luke 9: 11b-17
Reproduced with Permission

I would like to share with you my observations about the relationships of some people. I recall, for instance, the time I was about to enter church. As I approached I heard a woman's voice ahead of me exclaim, "But I'm Catholic." I was curious and looked to see what the commotion was about. The woman was wearing a form fitting halter and shorts and the attendant refused her entry into the church, a Swiss guard at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. You may have witnessed similar experiences. Some fine restaurants, for instance, will not admit men unless they are wearing jackets. Some will even provide one for a forgetful gentleman. There are still in some circles requirements of respectability. Of course, there is always McDonald's - and I am not disparaging McDonald's - but even MacDonald's requires their patrons wear shirts and shoes and they post signs stating this. Many people do, however, maintain a certain respectability and reverence for others, at least for the office they hold: "Your honor," in a courtroom, "All rise, the Honorable Judge so and so presiding." Occasionally, in our daily goings about we may hear a 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' spoken. Then, too, when God in the Old Testament appeared to his people they generally responded with awe or fear and reverence. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush he instructed Moses to remove his shoes while in his "holy place", and no dared follow Moses up Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments from God or he would die for trying. Today, our relations with others tend to be so casual and informal that it is hard to tell who is the father or mother from the son or daughter or the teacher from the student in their interactions.

When the Son of God choose to become man even Jesus endured the same irreverence from a majority of people who saw him as just another man and occasionally even from his own disciples and Apostles. At one time Peter was so 'out of line' that Jesus had to tell him, "Get behind me, Satan!" after Peter had admonished Jesus for saying "that the Son of Man must suffer, and be rejected . . . and be killed, and after three days rise again. "You are thinking not as God thinks," Jesus told Peter, "but as human beings do." (Mark 8, 31-33). Jesus so much wants us to think as God.

If we believe that Christ will be here at Mass in his body and blood as much as he was with his disciples before his death - would we not first ask for his forgiveness of any mortal sin in the Sacrament of Repentance which he gave us before coming to Mass? We do acknowledge our repentance of sin at Mass before receiving his body and blood in Holy Communion, saying, "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" and "Lord, I am not worthy . . . ." , repeating the words of a non-Christian Roman soldier who had asked Jesus to cure his servant who said he was not worthy to enter his house.

Back home my neighbor, Bruce, whose wife is Catholic once told me that he had considered becoming Catholic but said that he knew no Catholics who were any different from most other people. Before we were called Christian in the early Church and then Catholic we were simply known as people of the "Way", people who lived a certain kind of life different from others, people who genuinely took to heart Jesus' admonition, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Is there any better compliment one could receive than "Catholic", and how would anyone know? I wonder how the woman who was refused entry into Saint Peter's is doing today. That Swiss guard may have shamed her, and if that was a moment of conversion for her, a rekindling of reverence for God in herself I would be happy for her shame. We can never forget that Jesus choose to suffer and expose himself to public "shame" for our sins. (cf. Hebrews 6, 6). There was no more shameful way to die than on the cross which we reverence today. Peter who "wept bitter tears" for abandoning Jesus at his arrest later confessed "by his [Christ's) wounds we have been saved." (1 Peter 2:24).

We may question the reverence we give certain people but do we question the reverence we give God coming and leaving Church and our conduct in his house? Even Jesus told "the crowds and his disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach'." (Matthew 23, 1-3). Some of you have heard me remark about our reverence in church particularly in the exchange of peace which Jesus first gave his Apostles after his resurrection which we remember in the Mass. The Apostles were guilt-ridden for their cowardice before Jesus appeared to them and absolved them of their sin saying, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you," In the Mass the priest celebrant repeats Jesus' greeting and adds "Look not on our sins." Then the priest at Mass extends the peace of Christ's forgiveness with the words, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." It is meant to be simple reverent expression of gratitude for the sins we have been forgiven before receiving the body and blood of our Lord who gave his life for our salvation. It is not an occasion for crossing aisles reaching out to as many people as we can and making conversation. What do we imagine the response of the Apostles when Jesus greeted them, "Peace I leave you. My peace I give you." What a relief that must have been. We know that Thomas who was not with the Apostles then but who later met his risen Lord fell to his feet and uttered, "My Lord and my God!"

There is much more to reverence in Church than some rules of etiquette. Reverence should spring from the dignity we hold within and extend to some one else, some place or occasion and also reflect our own personal sense of dignity and worth which we have in the presence of God in Church. God's dignity does not depend upon ours. But what does our sense of dignity say about us in our appearance and conduct? Jesus actually preached this - much better than I could - when he described and contrasted the irreverence of a Pharisee and the reverence of a true penitent in the temple.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, [Jesus said] one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people . . . even like this tax collector. . . .But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other. (Luke 18, 10-14).

I know that in certain circumstances, important official or social events, we know how to be reverent in the manner of our dress and conduct - at a wedding, a funeral or special ceremony such as a school graduation. Why have we devolved into irreverent habits in this "house of prayer" which Jesus decried when he drove the irreverent out of his "Father's house" in Jerusalem? Church is neither a place for banal conversation, nor little get-togethers for socializing before or after Mass. Should we attribute this irreverence to habit, forgetfulness or ignorance? I don't know. It is a matter we priests of the parish will be discussing this week and in the following Sunday homilies. For myself, next Sunday I will attempt to enter with you into the dignity and significance of the liturgy of the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.