Ars Praedicandi: Body and Blood of Christ, Ed Foley

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

In liturgy, as in life, there is sometimes an unexpected convergence
of events and ideas
or people and places
resulting in overloads, whether insights or emotions.

Today is one of the liturgical calendar’s overload days:
when a 13th-century feast
intersects with a 19th-century liberation memorial
which converge with a 20th-century family festival.

That is Corpus Christi, sharing temporal space
with Juneteenth and Father’s Day.
What’s a preacher to do?

We have a modest example of this kind of triple convergence
every weekend when three readings
are combined in a kind of lectionary stew
with various Sundays or Feasts
whose distinctive combinations provide a sometimes flavorful
and sometimes challenging amalgam of revelations to savor.

A favorite framework for trying to assemble
this weekly lectionary puzzle
is the game of billiards.

Different from pool, which requires the player to sink the balls
in one of the six pockets around the table,
proper billiards is played on a table
with no pockets and only three balls.
You score points not by pocketing any balls,
but by driving one of the balls into both of the others
in a single stroke.
Thus, this game is all about
calculating the ricochet.

Similarly preaching for me presents the challenge
of ricocheting readings off of each other
in the hopes of some spiritual hit or insight.

Recently I’ve been intrigued by a scientific metaphor
useful for negotiating the weekly lectionary soup
or today’s festal overload: particle accelerators.

Admittedly I don’t understand much about physics or accelerators
though, like you, I recognize the name “Fermilab
an accelerator complex just 30 miles from here.

There, as with other particle accelerators,
scientists propel opposing particle beams
at virtually the speed of light
into a planned collision that provides key information
for understanding the mysterious subatomic world.

Collision might sound a bit violent as a spiritual metaphor
and the gentler language of encounter
might be preferable.

The gospels are filled with stories about Jesus encounters
with fishermen and Samaritan women,
tax collectors, the infirm and the possessed.
Some of those encounters are gentle and compassionate,
but others are more like particle collisions
as when Jesus is confronted by a Syrophoenician mother [1]
or impertinent Sadducee, [2]
by evil spirits [3] or indignant leaders [4]
whose explosive outcomes provide us fresh insights
about the mystery of God in Christ.

Today’s trifecta of Corpus Christi, Juneteenth, and Father’s Day
brings together elements
from three different arenas
creating a unique multiverse of meanings:

One, an ancient feast
celebrating the immeasurable gift
of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist,

Two, a federal holiday commemorating
the declaration of freedom for enslaved people
in the last state with institutional slavery,

And three, a familial holiday
created by a grateful daughter in 1910
to honor her widowed father who raised her and 5 siblings
after her mother’s premature death.

While each of these memorials
had a distinctive history and purpose,
when they spiritually collide in the crucible of today’s liturgy
their commingling yields rich inspiration and mission.

For example, it is true that all three of these
have strong overtones of joy:
the Feast of Corpus Christi evolved because,
even though the Church already had
a major eucharistic feast on Holy Thursday,
its Holy Week context disallowed unrestrained feasting.

The Juneteenth day
commemorating the legal abolishment of slavery
certainly carries joyful overtones.

And as any Hallmark card will remind you,
confirmed by today’s many celebratory breakfasts
Father’s Day is also ordinarily punctuated with joy.

There are also deep strands of gratitude across these feasts
gratitude for the real presence of Christ;
gratitude for the promise of liberation;
gratitude for the gift of parenting.

On the other hand, there are also strains of disappointment,
unfinished business, even regret
across this constellation of feasts:

Disappointment that our baptismal call
to be the living body of Christ
is so often unrealized;

Disappointment that our country’s original sin of racism
still deeply infects our national psyche;

And disappointment that sometimes parenting goes awry
child-parenting bonding is undeveloped or sundered,
and the family as the domestic church [5]
does not live up to that grace-filled promise.
The reality is that father’s day is not always a happy day
for every family, for every child.

The grace of today’s shared feasting
in presence, liberation & family,
is the promise of a different kind of disruption
a holy disturbance that occurs
when God’s spirit collides with our thirst for freedom
and the nurturing instincts of the human race itself,
revealing a baptismal path of authentic presence
and true liberation at the service of the whole human family.

Despite the contention of the Da Vinci Code and other tales
Jesus was not married and did not sire children,
so he is not a father in the literal sense
and today’s secular holiday seemingly
has nothing to do with him.

Yet, the gospels do portray Jesus
as one who exercises considerable parenting skills:
nurturing and correcting sometimes contentious disciples,
imparting parental wisdom in word and in deed,
and even exercising essential care-giving skills
like feeding a mob with meager resources,
a miracle so often reenacted on a small scale
in so many households today,
when limited resources, exacerbated by inflation
are magnified through the grace of parental sacrifices.

Feeding folk not only meets a fundamental biological need
it is also its own form of liberation.

It is a well-established fact that human beings are disabled
from accomplishing many things
without proper nourishment.

Malnutrition can disrupt sleep patterns,
sap us of energy for accomplishing necessary work,
and undermine children’s physical and mental development.

Jesus was a gifted nourisher even on a physical level.
Evidence of that comes in the gospels themselves,
like today’s passage from Luke,
one of eight – count them eight – gospel feeding stories: [6]
twice as many as Last Supper stories in the gospels.

And then there were the untold ways he nourished souls:
liberating sinners from guilt,
liberating the hopeless from despair,
liberating the outcasts from the margins,
and liberating the lost from aimless lives.

While I join in all those honoring dads on this, their special day
and hold in precious memory my own father,
as a non-father I also stand in solidarity with other non-fathers,
who claim both the promise and the mission of this day,
as I stand also with the African American community,
that I similarly cannot claim as my own,
yet celebrate their liberation from slavery
as they yet cry out for their unrealized equal dignity.

Many of us don’t have deep resources,
and have our own version of a few loaves and fishes,
but on this coalescing, if not collision, of festivals and feasts,
in the image of our parent God,
the emancipating Christ,
a nourishing Spirit,
we too are commissioned to sacrifice, to struggle, to endure
so that, no matter how modestly,
we too can multiple, nourish, and liberate for
those children of God that are so desperate for such care.

Dear Dad, is how this belated Father’s Day letter begins:

Thank you for assuring me I wouldn’t drown when the water was filling the bathtub when I was very young and very sure the water would keep coming and what would happen then? You showed me that spot under the faucet, a little emergency drain.

Thank you for introducing me to your favorite athletes. Joe Louis. Sugar Ray Robinson. Sam Snead. Together, we liked Joe Frazier (you were not an Ali guy) and Jack Nicklaus.

Thank you for all your music I didn’t like then. Duke Ellington. Ella Fitzgerald. Louie Armstrong. (You were not a Charlie Parker guy). Those old albums of yours? I have them now on CD.

Thank you for your work bench. I kept your level and some weird massive wrench. I never saw you use it. I haven’t used it. But I like having a weird massive wrench in the unlikely event a major construction project bewitches me.

Thank you for the golf lessons. I still can handle a nine iron, but golf didn’t stick with me. Damn you, long irons.

Thank you for taking me to Disney World the year after it opened. You would have much rather been on a golf course, or fishing, or listening to Louie Armstrong in your La-Z-Boy, or watching Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins beat everybody. But you went to the Magic Kingdom, suffered the long lines, indulged me, fathered me.

Thank you for maybe the greatest Christmas gift… My brother left for college. You turned his bedroom into your office. This was not my idea … his room … should be passed down to me… Then, that Christmas, you [exited] the corner bedroom [and] …actually deeded me the room – a legal document drawn up at your law office. I became the official owner of my brother’s bedroom. … I still keep the deed in a lock box just in case someone tries to steal the memory.  I have become a memory hoarder, but I wish I could remember more things to thank you for [this] Father’s Day.  [Love, Jack]

I don’t know anybody who got deeded the corner bedroom,
certainly didn’t happen to me,
but in Christ we were all deeded the right and responsibility
to parent, to nourish, to shelter, to safeguard, to honor,
and to become life for others
as we are reminded on this feast
that Christ is for us.

And, to all of you who do claim the title
a very blessed, and happy father’s day!

[1] Mark 7:24-30
[2] Matt 22:23-33
[3] Luke 4:31-36
[4] Mark 14:53-65
[5] Lumen Gentium, no. 11
[6] Mark 6:31-44, Mark 8:1-10, Matt 14:13-21, Matt 15:32-39 [with echo in Matt 16:5-12], Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-14.

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