Thank you to Fr. Charlie Currie, SJ for sharing this homily from our IVC Mass of Thanksgiving to close the All Staff Gathering on November 22nd. The Mass was offered on behalf of IVC’s friends and supporters and your intentions.
It is a privilege to be celebrating with you as part of your All Staff Gathering, with its theme: “One Body with Many Parts.” I have already had my own experience of being “spoiled for life,” having been recruited by your fearless Director, Mary McGinnity, having seen the excellent national office staff in action, and having learned about the good work of you regional directors. IVC has much to be grateful for, so that it is appropriate that we gather for Eucharist.
You have already reflected on the message of our two readings, how IVC is in fact one body with many parts, and how each of us is grafted to Christ as a branch to its nourishing vine. I will focus my homily on the awesome reality behind this Eucharist as a renewal of the covenant we all are challenged to make, first at Baptism, and then at each Eucharist since. This covenant expresses our relationship with Christ, both individually and collectively as members of IVC.
In the Old or Jewish Testament, animals were sacrificed to God as a symbol of our total dependence on God, and their blood sprinkled on both altar and people to symbolize the linking of God and His people in a covenant relationship, pronouncing God as our God, and we as God’s people.
Foreshadowed in the Last Supper and re-enacted in every Eucharist, the wine-become-blood commemorates the pouring out of Christ’s blood on the Cross, which established the new covenant—a totally new, deeper and richer relationship between God and His people.
In the new covenant, we experience the incredible reality that God so loved us that He gave us His Son, who in turn died for us. The images of the body and its parts and the vine and its branches are two ways of expressing that reality.
Thus every Eucharist is a covenant meal, an opportunity to renew our covenantal relationship with God. In every Eucharist, we are called to re-affirm that relationship, and renew the covenant ratified by His life, death and resurrection.
The incredible reality of this Eucharistic gathering is not only that we are about to receive Christ Himself as our food—but that each time we share in the Eucharist we become more and more Christ. St. Augustine emphasized that unlike normal food that becomes part of us, we become the food we eat in the Eucharist.
Salvadoran Archbishop Romero, in his homily just moments before he was gunned down while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital in San Salvador, put it more graphically:
This body broken and blood shed for human beings encourages us to give our body and blood up to suffering and pain as Christ did—not for self, but to bring justice and peace to our people.
A few minutes later, he lay dead on the floor from an assassin’s bullet, doing just what he said we should all be ready to do.
We are not likely to get shot and killed for our beliefs, as were the four American Church women a few months later or the Jesuits and their co-workers nine years later, but Romero, the women, and the Jesuits are very contemporary witnesses to the significance of what we are doing here today. We are not just “showing up” for a meal, but we are committing ourselves to be other Christs, to adapt His lifestyle as our own. Every time we gather around this table, we are challenged to penetrate the signs to the reality of what is going on.
Throughout human history, God has been trying to break through into our history, trying to have a relationship with us and be present to us. In the Eucharist, God has found an incredible way to do that. Christ becomes our food and we literally become Christ. But this is not automatic. God doesn’t overpower us, but invites us to collaborate very actively in the process.
We come together not just to pray, not even to pray together. We come together to act-out who we are, to show by word and action who we are.
Liturgy is a Greek word, meaning the “work of the people.” The liturgical reforms of Vatican II emphasized that the liturgy is not merely the action of the priest, with everyone else as passive bystanders, but rather the work of everyone gathered around this table, trying to become Christ and helping others to do the same, and engaging the real world in the process.
In the Eucharistic liturgy, we listen to the Scripture readings, the Word of God, trying to hear them as if written today, reflecting on their meaning for each of us and for the gritty reality of the world around us..
In the bread and wine, we might recall Teilhard de Chardin’s image when he had neither bread nor wine in the Gobi Desert. He composed his magnificent essay, “Mass on the World,” in which the bread is made up of the particles of human achievement, and the wine is made up of the drops of human suffering. In that spirit, we engage all we are and all we do—everything about IVC—in the offering of the gifts, to be transformed into Christ’s sacrifice for the life of the world.
Then, in the Eucharistic prayer, we engage our lives with the offering of Christ, dying and rising for us, ending the prayer with a loud “Amen” to express our total commitment to what is happening. Then together, as we share Christ’s flesh and blood in communion, we very consciously try to become more and more who we are, other Christs.
At the National Cathedral in Washington, shortly before his death, Martin Luther King spoke about people sleep-walking through history, unaware of what was happening all around them. We can engage in our own form of sleep walking, forgetting the incredible reality we are about in each Eucharist, namely, literally transforming ourselves and our world. Teilhard called it the “Eucharistisation” of the world.
The basic reality of what is happening in each Eucharist is that each of us is challenged to be who we are, women and men with the life of Christ within us and therefore expected to live His life in our time. We are nourished by His body and blood to help us do that. In the Eucharist, Christ is present to transform each of us to think, speak and act as Christ might think, speak and act.
When we receive Christ’s Body and Blood today, we are renewing a covenant, a privileged relationship with God in Christ that should make a great difference in how we live, how we relate to one another, to the people, events, volunteer sites, and issues of our lives – poverty, homelessness, joblessness, health care reform, climate change, economic uncertainly, violence in its many forms.
We have much work to do to become who we are, the voice, hands, feet and heart of Christ Himself in a city, nation and world in need of transformation.
Today, as we are more aware of being parts of one Body of Christ, and being branches of the Vine, is a good day to take a big step in that direction for each of us, and for IVC itself.
God bless you, and God bless IVC!