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Receive Who You Are
RECEIVE WHO YOU ARE
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ 2021 Year B
I never knew my older brother, Stephen Jr. He drowned when he was 2 1/2 years old. My parents didn’t talk about him much at all. They mourned his death for a very long time. Sonny (his nickname) was too young for the obituary to tell us anything about him. He did not leave any personal effects behind for us to cherish. All we have now are faded photographs and our imaginations.
I never knew Jesus of Nazareth and yet I am audacious enough to talk and write about him all the time. The only intel I have on Jesus is what I read in the Bible and those testimonies were written by authors who were originally anonymous. We cannot be sure if any one of them actually knew Jesus firsthand.
Of course there are avowals from people we know now who, without doubt, share their experiences of God acting in their lives especially when they are down and out. Our personal and public prayers and songs affirm the belief that God continues to be present to us, walks with us on our journeys. The Spirit God takes root within us.
Generally speaking there are two kinds of death: to die and to be forgotten. The first is bad enough; the second is even worse. How do we not forget someone? Photos? Cemetery visits? Stories? Meals? How do Christians remember Jesus of Nazareth, the One who came to be known as the messiah the Israelites were waiting for? How did all the non-Jews in subsequent years come to believe in someone they never met?
Today’s solemnity, the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, recalls the final dinner Jesus had with his friends. Although the scriptures for today provide a biblical context for the liturgy not all Christian calendars observe it.
According to legend the festivity originated in 1246 when Saint Juliana, prioress of Mont Cornillon (1222–58), had a vision and persuaded the bishop of Liège, Robert de Torote, to establish the feast in the diocese. Eventually, Pope Urban IV ordered the annual celebration of Corpus Christi in all parishes.
I remember, as a young altar boy, carrying candles and incense through our neighborhood streets on the feast of Corpus Christi. Crowds trailed the priest who, shaded by a decorative canopy carried by parishioners, held high the shiny, gilded monstrance that contained the consecrated host.  Along the way we stopped at three porches decorated by the homeowners. We sang songs while kneeling in quiet reverence of the exposed sacrament.
Recent studies point out that the practice of adoring the sacrament has become popular again especially with students attending Catholic universities. Being still and quiet in the presence of the hallowed host creates an atmosphere of prayer and meditation. It is a welcomed and serene setting in a very stressful world.
This feast, however, is not an endorsement of the popular practice of eucharistic adoration alone. The body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ cannot be left in a container. The real presence of Christ is also about remembering and creating relationships like the ones Jesus engendered and counted on while he was here on earth.
Yes, Jesus of Nazareth gave his life, his body and blood, to free others from whatever held them captive. He was resilient until he commended his spirit to the Creator whom he called Father. But, during his life this itinerant preacher needed a support system: his mother Mary, his friend Mary of Magdala, his disciples, and others touched by him. He also managed to find quiet time to reflect and pray alone.
The eucharist is not an object, a reward for following rules. It is a way of life embraced by believers. The ritual enactment of the eucharist reminds us of our obligations as Christians to establish kind relationships with others. This liturgy is carried out by the whole Body of Christ, the church, with its designated leader. It is not something delivered to us by any one individual.
When Jesus said “do this in my memory” he was not ordaining only those present in the room to carry on his mission. He was commissioning anyone who chooses to follow him to wash each other’s feet, heal broken bodies, stop senseless blood shed, feed hungry children, house street people, support prisoners, welcome strangers, and, to make his challenge even more relevant, protect the whole environment in which we live.
The ritual celebration of the body and blood of Jesus the Christ is the memorial of his life, death, resurrection and eternal presence. But all liturgical action must be accompanied by social action. In fact, we cannot do one without doing the other. The research that documents those young persons who are keeping vigil over the reserved sacrament also states they are interested in doing something about racism, food insecurity, immigration and climate change.\
I cannot be sure what my brother Stephen would have become in life had he not died as a child. I can, however, think of him as part of my body and blood. Likewise, to remember who and what Jesus Christ was and is for us today I can think of the sacrament as my body and blood. St. Augustine preached about this notion as well as the reception of the eucharist a long time ago. In so many words he said: “Receive who you are.” 
1. A monstrance is receptacle used to display the consecrated host, the body of Christ, for adoration by the people. Some are more elaborate than others.
2. “It is your own mystery that you are receiving!” St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) Sermon 272, Latin text in J.P. Migne, Patrologia Latina 38:1246-1248. Translation by Nathan Mitchell.