This homily, based on Mark 14:12-26, was delivered on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, or the Corpus Christi, at St. Agnes Church.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Corpus Christi–which literally means the “body of Christ.” But actually, the feast is not so much about the body of Christ as it is about the presence of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
It’s a very Catholic feast: Our other Christian brothers and sisters do not celebrate it. Unlike us, they don’t believe in transubstantiation, a complicated theological term that refers to an even more complicated mystery:–i.e., what we Catholics believe happens at the consecration at Mass, when in the hands of the priest, the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus. Our Protestant friends disagree; for them, the bread and the wine are but symbols of Christ’s presence, whereas we Catholics believe in the “real” presence of Christ.
So it makes me wonder: “What do we mean by ‘real’?” What do you mean by ‘real’? In other words, what is your criterion for reality? What requirement must something meet before you will ascribe reality to it?
Today most people are, by default, positivists. We concede that something is real only if we can perceive it–if we can see, hear, smell, or taste it. As the saying goes, “To see (or hear or smell or taste) is to believe.” If you subscribe to that, then you are using what is called a perceptual criterion for reality: Something is real only if you can perceive it.
The problem with such a criterion, however, is that it’s going to be a challenge for you to justify—or even believe—that the Lord’s Eucharistic presence is real. No matter how closely you look at the consecrated host, you are not going to see Jesus. No matter how much you press it against your ear, you’re not going to hear his voice. The Lord’s Presence in the Eucharist is never going to pass the perceptual criterion of reality.
Thankfully, for philosophers, there is an additional–and, they claim, much superior!–criterion for reality.: The causal criterion. This means that even if something can’t be perceived through our five senses, as long as it has causal power–i.e., if it has the potential to produce an effect even if it doesn’t actually lead to any effect yet–then it ought to be considered real.
Think about it: For Christians and for all believers in things spiritual and unseen, this causal criterion is much more adequate than the perceptual criterion. We actually believe in the reality of many things we can’t perceive. Take gravity, for example. We can’t perceive it directly, but we acknowledge that it’s real because of its effects. Or take a mother’s love. We can’t see the love directly, but from its effects (all the actions that the mother does for her child), we infer that it’s real.
So the causal criterion certainly works for the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. Whatever you choose to call it–transubstantiation or symbolic–as long as it has the capactiy to make a difference–then the Body of Christ must be real–even if it’s always going to look, smell, or taste like a wafer.
Of course an obvious implication to all this is that if the Lord’s presence can make a difference, will we–you and I–actually allow him to actually cause some changes in our lives? If the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is real, then the graces we receive at communion really do have the power to change our hearts and our lives, to set the most crooked lives straight—but only if we let it. As we know by now, that is completely up to us because Ours is a God who insists on respecting our freedom. For the real presence of Christ to actually make a difference in our lives, we need to let it and cooperate with the Lord.
So here’s a question for us on this feast: Are we willing to let Jesus become more real to us by saying “Yes” to him and letting him make a greater difference in our lives?
Something to think about.