10 June 2007
Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
1 Cor 11:23-26
Jesuits are described as contemplatives in action. Unlike our Trappist brothers who live in monastic cloister and silence, contemplating the word of God, we move around. A lot. Just ask mom how many phone numbers and addresses I’ve had in my ten years as a Jesuit. She used to carefully erase the old one before putting the new one in her address book. Now she reuses an old sticky note.
Jerome Nadal, an early Jesuit, famously noted that the Jesuit’s cloister is the highway. Our work, oftentimes very mobile work, drives our prayer life and our prayer life, oftentimes entered into while on the move, drives our work. Overall, action seems to trump contemplation most of the time.
It is a feast such as this, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, or the Feast of Corpus Christi, that reminds us of the contemplative side of our lives. Not just Jesuit lives, but all of our lives. The lives of all believers. This feast pulls us into the contemplative. For good reason. It is an abstract feast in that it doesn’t recall a person or an event.
Our liturgical calendar is crammed with feasts—Christmas, Easter, The Ascension, The Annunciation—that recall specific events in the history of salvation, specific moments in the history of the world. Events with a narrative flow and a story that is told and retold. We can, and indeed Ignatian prayer demands, that we place ourselves in the action and participate in the history. We can close our eyes and, with only a little imagination, see the events unfold on an inner movie screen.
On this Feast, however, we have to sit back. In silence. There is no script. There is no “story line.” We, Jesuit and non-Jesuit, are forced to be less active, at least for a bit, and more contemplative.
What do we contemplate? The gift of Christ present, truly and substantially, in the Eucharist. It is almost overwhelming to consider that Jesus is present in the bread and wine that we receive in the Eucharist and adore on the altar. For some the real presence is a stumbling block. They can understand symbol. They can understand sign. They can understand metaphor. They can even understand allusion. They simply can’t understand real.
The bread of life appears in all three readings. It is a happy coincidence to be able to invoke the name of Melchizedek in the first reading and in Psalm 110 less than twenty-four hours after being ordained. “You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is a mysterious figure. His appearance in the first reading is the only one in scripture. There is no other information, no genealogy, nothing. All other mentions of the name Melchizedek derive from this single reference in Genesis. He is as mysterious as the priesthood.
The reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians should sound familiar. It contains the words of consecration, the words that bring us here not just today but weekly and daily. Elaborating on these words or trying to explain them would be either gilding the lily or taking more risks than any priest should at his first Mass.
The feeding of the multitude in some way illustrates the stumbling block nature of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. How did it happen? What were the physics, the chemistry, and economics of such a miraculous event? But these are not the relevant questions, these are not the relevant concepts. What is important is that when we are hungry, when we are thirsty in this journey we call life, Christ is present to us in the Eucharist, to restore and refresh us. In the Gospel narrative we heard, “they all ate until they had enough.” This feeding of the multitude from very little, reminds us—it was a preview of what was to come—that from the small piece of bread that he broke the night before he died Jesus has nourished, and will continue to nourish, untold billions, generously and completely.
The Body and Blood of Christ. An unending source of nourishment, of sustenance, and of comfort. The only thing we can do on this feast is to sit in awe and contemplate this great gift of the Eucharist, and then get up and continue the journey.
I was in Houston for Gillian Alex's graduation from the University of Texas at Houston School of Medicine with her M.D. I hooded her. Gillian's late dad was my roommate at Penn State during sophomore year but a close friend from about 30 minutes after we moved into the dorms as freshmen back in September of 1968.
Houston is flat. Very flat. Houston is hot. Very hot. Houston in humid. Very . . . you get the drift. Upon exiting the plane I was blasted by heat and humidity with a faint eau d' refinery. The George H. Bush airport is about 35 miles away from the city. Interesting drive into the city and a very long drive at 4:30 AM on Saturday without caffeine in my bloodstream. Rather than staying at a hotel I stayed at Strake Jesuit Preparatory School about ten miles away from the med school and the hotel where everyone else stayed.
The tragic fire that hit Houston on Friday was less than two miles from Strake. It began around the time I was getting ready to leave for the hotel. The drive was a nightmare early on with some realistic fantasies of missing the graduation. The GPS app in my cell phone paid for itself. Made it with twenty minutes to spare before we went to the convention center. Pray for the repose of the four firefighters killed when a roof collapsed.
While waiting for everyone to come to the lobby of the hotel, I was wandering around with the camera, at least until the manager asked me to stop. So, the hotel will remain unnamed. But, given the unusual lighting in the lobby, some of the photos will appear.
One rarely sees a lobby decorated in shades of black and gray with lavender lighting as reflected in the chandelier. The camera did a good job of capturing the color accurately.
Vases calla lilies were reflected in the mirror along with the lavender hue of the lighting.
The chandelier itself.
The lobby in reflection.
And now, The Doctors. We didn't get many shots of Gillian in robes after the graduation. When the academic procession arrived in the robing area a security guard playing super stud would not permit the students beyond the "corral" in their robes. Nor would he permit parents on the other side of the movie theater ropes. The anger on the part of the students was mounting and getting real ugly. The security guard was being a real .......... (fill in your favorite pejorative term involving body parts or products of metabolism). Finally a UT official began shouting at him and bounded up the steps. The ropes were removed shortly thereafter. Gillian went back to retrieve her gown and hood. As we were leaving to go to the car I took off my cap but only unzipped the gown until we got to the car. The stud was now down two floors at the exit and challenged me. Apparently he thought I was walking off with the school's robes. Trust me, my robes were a lot better quality than what most of the faculty was wearing. It was amusing in the end though infuriating back in the corral. So, here is Gillian Alex, M.D.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD