Ars praedicandi: Corpus Christi

Homily preached Saint John’s Abbey, on May 29, 2016 by Fr. Michael Peterson, OSB.

In the monastery dinning room at St. John’s Abbey, there is a little room off to the side we call the snack room. It’s a place to get a cookie, coffee, or a place to eat when you don’t have time to eat with the community at our regular meal time. Recently I was having a rather busy day and was standing in the snack room, rather hurriedly eating a bowl of soup for lunch. An elder monk was in there too sitting down having a cookie. He looked at me and said, “You know, the way you’re eating is not very Benedictine. Sit down with me and tell me how things are going with you.” With annoyance, I thought to myself, “Can’t you see I’m busy!” But, I sat down and we had a rather nice conversation. And I realized that I did have time for my brother monk. Why hurry? What a beautiful thing simply to enjoy one another’s company around food and story.

I believe this is the way of Jesus. In the gospel, it is sheer genius how Jesus takes ordinary stuff and forms of it salvation. Five loaves and two fish, and the simple words of Jesus, “Have them sit down and eat.” No formal invitation, no tuxedoes or gowns. No rehearsals, no having first to be perfect. Simply a call we’ve all heard before, “Take and eat, take and drink.”

The thoughtfulness of Jesus sounds almost too ordinary. But on closer look it means: “It’s been a long day. Be strengthened with food. You’ve probably not eaten for hours. Food will energize. Don’t go away on an empty stomach. There’s a full day ahead tomorrow. Don’t go away, I want to share more with you.” Familiar, thoughtful, human words. We’ve heard, “Come, sit and eat” from family – mom, dad, spouse, or friends. But hearing it from Jesus? Why do we make God so distant, unapproachable, and unreachable, when Jesus is as close and natural in his serving role as a waitress who’s refilled the coffee 97 times this morning at Kay’s Kitchen?

Benedictine spirituality is ordinary. I hope you catch that here at Saint John’s. The sacred, the holy, is in our ordinary relationships, our ho-hum day-to-day activities, in our love and friendship with one another. God is found in the flesh and blood relationships with one another – real life! Certainly, God is transcendent, greater and more beautiful than we possibly can imagine, but God is Word made flesh. God is Word made flesh so our own flesh, our lives, will be Word, will be gospel, will be good news to those around us, will be sacrifice in offering oneself to others. Take and eat, take and drink.

When were those times in your life when you could say, “Here is the Lord”? Was it during something extraordinary? Perhaps. But my guess is that is was during something very ordinary – like a shared meal.

How full of welcome is Jesus today. There is the disciples’ fish and bread shared among people searching for greater meaning in their lives. They gave thanks to God, they broke bread, and Jesus was in their midst – the hospitality of God with basketfuls left over.

The gospel says, “They ate and were satisfied.” Satisfied not only with the simple human pleasure of food and good company, but the deep joy of encountering Jesus Christ in their lives, and seeing his lived example of self-gift to them. This self-gift is the path to blessedness.

The great mystery and beauty of the Eucharist and this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is that we receive Christ in the most human way – as hungry people gathered together, listening to the stories of Jesus, and with open hands, eating and drinking together. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Take and eat, take and drink. How ordinary. How extraordinary!

Fr. Michael Peterson, OSB, is oblate director and chaplain to the College of Saint Benedict.

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3 comments

  1. The image of the risen Christ as a diner waitress was beautiful and new to me. Thanks, Fr. Michael.

  2. A few weeks ago I spent a few days at the guesthouse of Landévennec Benedictine Abbey in Brittany. At breakfast on the first morning, in the dining room for the guests, we ran out of bread. Someone mentioned it in the kitchen, and one of the community came to apologise, that more bread would not arrive until later. However, he brought a pack of dry toasted bread to fill the gap, with the remark (you’ll recall Marie Antoinette): “Let them eat cake!”
    I see St John’s has a “monastery dinning room” (see opening of the article above). A (joyfully) noisy place?
    A question about the Collect for Corpus Christi:
    The prayer opens: “O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion …” – this corresponds closely to the Latin. Is this there any other Collect of any Mass which is addressed directly to Jesus? The prayer seems (almost) always addressed to the Father.
    And is there any other prayer of the Mass in which Jesus is directly addressed simply as “God”? The format more usually is phrased in a way which distinguishes the persons of the Trinity.
    The Pharaohs erected pyramids, and others have erected a variety of monuments to try to preserve their memory. The genius of Jesus is that he chose an everyday activity with everyday materials, and his memory has endured far more effectively. How ordinary. How extraordinary!
    The poem “Ozymandias” by Shelley reflects on the vanity of one who sought to perpetuate his memory:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains.

  3. Thank you Father for this homily.

    I would like one day to attend Mass in the Abbey church. There I might find the austerity I will never find. Though, perhaps I should not visit the snack cupboard or the refectory even. My coffee consumption is measured not in cups, but gallons.

    I always associate Corpus Christi with the procession, and not the preceding Mass. It is sometimes as if the Mass is an afterthought, the what-precedes the blessed clash of chanting and rosary-recitation. I sympathize with the Reformation leaders up to this degree: the Corpus Christi procession almost fully eclipses the “take and eat” of the Eucharist. The Lord becomes a bejeweled bauble held at a far distance. In the procession the Eucharist almost becomes divorced what it properly is, food for the journey and not a journey for food.

    Certainly processions have a place in Catholicism. Yet I have never been able to place processions in proper perspective.

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