Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58
When I made the decision to enter seminary, I did so out of a sense of duty. I knew God was calling me to be a priest; I knew I “had to” do it, and so I went.
But what held me back was a presence. I’ve shared the story before. She was smart, beautiful, holy, smart…and beautiful! And it’s not that I didn’t want to be a priest, it’s that I wanted to hold on to this presence in front of me. I had decided that this is what my heart truly needed.
So when I left that presence, it was very difficult. I thought that God was going to console me, make me feel all happy and consoled. But instead I felt alone and abandoned. I thought God was punishing me, that he was being cruel to me! Why would the Lord—who promises to take care of me and be with me—why would he allow this, why would He abandon me to a situation like this?
But it was in this experience that I began to discover my heart, to stop lying to myself about what I thought my heart really wanted. I was discovering my humanity, my need for Another, my need for the presence of Someone to fulfill me, to fulfill my need for happiness.
I was discovering that for my entire life, I had decided what was going to make me happy. I had decided that being happy meant getting married and having a family. And being a priest? Well, I have to do that because God said so, and we have to do what God says—even if it makes us miserable, right? That’s what I thought! But I began to discover and recognize something deeper.
I recently had a conversation with a young woman who had been through awful things, truly awful experiences. She felt ashamed, angry, helpless. And then she said it: “I feel like Jesus isn’t present, like He just left me.”
But the more we talked, it wasn’t that she didn’t feel Jesus’ presence, but that this was the first time she had discovered her need for it, the need to experience His presence. In the face of her suffering, in the face of these awful events, she discovered her need for His presence.
Initially she was asking for explanation, “Why would God let this happen? Why would God not protect me? Why does He let me suffer?” And these are questions we have all asked at some point; we want answers and explanations! But these questions are so immense that a simple answer or explanation will never be enough.
And so how has God responded to these questions? People have looked for thousands of years for an explanation from God, tried to use the Bible to explain it. But “God [Himself] did not respond to the problems of life, to solitude, to suffering, with an explanation, but rather with his presence” (Carron). In Jesus, in his presence among us, we hear, “I have not come to explain, to disperse doubts with an explanation, but to fill, or better, to replace the very need for an explanation with my presence” (Claudel).
What this young woman discovered was her need for this kind of presence.
This need for the constant presence of God-with-us is what this solemnity today is all about.
Because let’s be honest: usually we don’t want God’s presence. I know, it sounds strange. “Of course we want God to be present!” But, no, usually we don’t. We want God to help us! We want God to take care of us! Protect us, protect our families, and so on! But usually…usually we want God to give us enough so that we don’t need Him anymore.
We pray for a better job and money (to take care of our families, of course!)—but really so that we don’t have to worry each day if things will be ok. If we have enough money, we can rely on our money to sustain us. We don’t need God anymore.
We pray for good health for ourselves and our children (wonderful!)—but really we pray for good health because we cannot deal with the helplessness of being sick, or the thought of dying. If we have good health, then we don’t need to worry about God.
We pray that God will save us from temptations (what a wonderful thing to pray for!)—but really we are asking him to make us a good person so that we don’t need to keep begging for his mercy, keep acknowledging our weakness and failure and sins. If I’m a good person, then I don’t need God to be present.
For most of us, we usually don’t want God to be present—we only want enough so that we can do it on our own.
That’s where this first reading is so powerful. Moses says to the people, “Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna” (Dt 8).
For forty years the people are tested by God! We get upset if we are tested for two days!! Forty years?? But as Moses says, God was directing them: God was always present. But the test was to see if the people would seek his presence, acknowledge the need for his presence—or if they would break away, break his commandments. God never gave them enough food and water for their journey all at once, he never gave them something so that they would no longer need him, no. But he did give them bread every day. Day by day, for forty years, without fail—God was present to his people.
The temptation the people faced constantly was the temptation to want to get rid of their need for God. They didn’t really want God to be present, they just wanted enough to do it on their own. That is the story of Israel: it is the story of a people constantly being reminded of their need for God’s presence, of discovering their need for the constant presence of God in their life.
Just like I discovered, what I desired most was a presence—someone to be present, to be there beside me always. And to this day, that is still one of the strongest desires within me: to experience waking up every morning with a presence, to live every day with this presence. The difficulty in accepting this vocation was, and still is, my desire to experience a constant, daily presence of one that loves me and prefers me to everyone else.
Just like the young woman discovered, what she needed was a presence. There were many questions she wanted answered, yes. But really, when she began to look at her experience, what she truly wants is a presence. A presence that conquered her shame and anger, and did not let her suffer alone.
Just like the Israelites discovered, God doesn’t want to give something so that we no longer need him, no (that would violate the very nature of God!). No, God constantly tries to help us discover the need for his presence.
We think that certain things are going to fulfill our desires, fulfill our heart, fulfill our deepest needs. We think that things—Good things! A spouse and children! A good job and money! Answers to questions! A boyfriend, shoes, a truck, a quinceañera, a bigger house—we think that if God gave us certain things we would be fine.
But as we discover time and time again, these things never do that. They never do. Don’t get me wrong! They can calm us down, give us some kind of “peace”, make us feel good for a day, or a weekend, or a few years. But then…then something happens, and we discover that these certain things don’t give us what we thought they would.
And if you pay attention, if you pay attention to your experience, you start to realize your need for a presence. It is only a present presence that can save us from nothingness, from wanting to kill ourselves.
As I leave St. Margaret Mary, there are a lot of feelings (I know, even Germans have feelings). But one of them is this feeling that I want to stay, that I want to remain present. I understand the mystery of Jesus Christ a little more: I have given (tried to give), poured out everything I have, everything I am to this parish, to you—and now I want to stay. And I know I have done all of this and that imperfectly, I know. I am very aware of my shortcomings and the ways I have not been a perfect priest, how I have not always recognized the sacredness of each one of you, how I have not always recognized how blessed and honored I should be by you opening your lives and your hearts to me. I know. But I experienced such a mercy here, love from you that has broken down walls and changed me. And I will never be able to make-up for my shortcomings, but I will never cease to be grateful for what you have shown me.
But now there is this desire to remain, to always remain, to remain present.
And though I am not able to remain present, this is precisely what Jesus is able to do, and it is Jesus’ presence that each one of us truly needs! Jesus gave everything He is to us, He poured out everything. And not just by working hard or teaching well, but by literally pouring everything out on the cross in love for us. And when you pour yourself out in love, you naturally want to remain, to remain present, to remain with those you love. And that’s what the Eucharist is: Christ present, his total act of love present to us, always. He remains a present presence.