Thinking Anew – The presence of Jesus in the world
The loaves and fishes
Tomorrow is the feast of Corpus Christi or the Body and Blood of Christ. I can still remember being a Dominican novice in 1968 taking part in a procession in Cork city to honour the day. A large number of people took part.
Looking at the recent peaceful demonstration in Hong Kong in opposition to the now postponed law on extradition, I was reminded of that 1968 Eucharistic procession in Cork. It was that large and significant too. Politicians and clergy led the procession. Times have changed. Ireland has changed. Numbers attending Sunday Mass have greatly fallen off. And yet in the most recent census, 78.3 per cent of the population said they were Roman Catholic. That’s almost four out of five.
If you asked Catholics about Corpus Christi, it would be interesting how they would reply. The feast was introduced into the universal church calendar in the 14th century. It is a celebration of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But it is a sacramental presence, and Christ is not present in the Eucharist as I am present here at my desk writing this. The Eucharist is about communion, communion with one another and with Christ. It is also about sacrifice, the self-emptying of Christ. Liturgy is a form of public religious worship. For it to have meaning and purpose it must be a living and real expression of how we can communicate/pray/talk to the Divine. Liturgy cannot be static. It has to be relevant to the lives of people who acknowledge their faith in the Divine. The Second Vatican Council attempted to place greater emphasis on the immanence of God, meaning His presence in our everyday lives. At the incarnation God decided to come into the world and be one of us. We certainly live in a time when everything has to be immediate. We have instant communication, we have knowledge and information at our fingertips. It’s not so long since we had to wait a week to have our camera films developed. All that has changed. The Mass, the Eucharist is the people of God at prayer. Surely it has to be celebrated in a way that makes sense to people. Of course, there has to be instruction and teaching but you can’t expect people of goodwill to take part in a ritual that has no meaning to them. We may be over-emphasising piety at the expense of connection, sacrificing meaning in the western world in the 21st century?
Tomorrow’s Gospel is the parable of the loaves and fishes. Jesus attracts a large group of people and they discover they have not got enough food, according to St Luke. All they have to feed 5,000 people are five loaves and two fishes. And yet through the work of Jesus everyone has enough to eat. Not only that, but when they had all eaten their fill, food was left over. Perhaps we should see in tomorrow’s Gospel reading a latter-day miracle where Jesus changes the mindset of people, whereby we all realise that there is a limited amount of food to go around so it has to be divided so that everyone in the world can be fed. Imagine if our Eucharistic celebration throughout the country was a dynamic life-giving prayerful experience where people gathered to celebrate the mystery and wonder of God, and put the message of love into practice?
We easily say that we are all children of God. How can we say that when we know that one in seven people on the planet has not got enough to eat? How can we say that when we have such inequality and poverty in our cities and towns? In the prayer over the gifts in tomorrow’s Mass we ask God to give us peace and unity. As long as we close our eyes to inequality and injustice, how can such a prayer have any meaning? We pray for unity which means we respect and care for one another. In acknowledging the presence of God in our lives, we become ever more aware that the goods of this earth are not for the few but the many. Tomorrow’s feast is a feast about the presence of Jesus in the world. It is a powerful reminder of the saving influence of God. In placing our trust in God we can bring about a more just world, which in turn will better reflect the glory and greatness of God.