Friday, June 4, 2010

Corpus Christi - Fr Damian Feeney

Vice Principal, Fr Damian Feeney preached at the Mass on Corpus Christi. The Gospel was Luke 9:11-17 ;

The more perceptive among you will know that for some time two cats have been resident in my house. I confess to something of a love-hate relationship with them, for behind the cuteness that everyone else seems to find so appealing there are two ruthless, calculating beings. One is serene until roused – and when roused, fights ensue – the other is, quite simply, mad. The first, when hungry, ingratiates himself with temporary displays of affection. The other uses intimidation – scratches, bites, threats and blackmails of all kinds. All of this is to ensure that they are fed. And once they are fed, and full, they wander off to do …well, whatever it is that cats do. Their various strategies to ensure full stomachs are presumably part of some survival mechanism – they eat to live, that they may feel full, and they are content until they feel hungry again, and that’s the end of the story. (Actually, I know one or two humans like that as well).

Tonight we consider a very different kind of feeding - a kind which does not leave us feeling full, but which makes us aware of a greater hunger. The nourishment of the Body and Blood of Jesus, tonight here celebrated, is of a different order entirely. We rightly speak tonight in the most exalted terms of the very presence of Jesus Christ, truly God, truly human, here among us in this Mass, in this most Holy Sacrament. We will endeavour to demonstrate this belief further as we process with this Divine Presence beyond the church walls. Then we will settle down to another type of feast at our guest dinner. But there is a very particular way in which this feeding leaves us – or should leave us – unsatisfied.

We who belong to the great joy and privilege of a Eucharistic community are aware that with the privilege comes the responsibility. If we are drawn to this feast, to our High Priest, host and friend, we commune with the divine, and with the divine purpose. We reflect continually upon what it means to live with the Mass at the centre of our being, but often fail to recognize the intimate connectedness between the Eucharist we share, the Godhead we adore, and the new, transformed lives which Jesus longs for us to live. The hunger which the Eucharist brings about in us is a hunger for the world, a hunger for our neighbour, whoever he or she may be. It is a hunger which cannot be satisfied until all are fed, until all live lives of dignity which are worthy of the kingdom, until the very kingdom of God is ushered in through this divine presence and the hunger He inspires. The more exalted our attitude to the Eucharistic presence of Jesus is, the greater and more pressing is our sense of responsibility.

None of us can claim to have an attitude to such things which is anything other than cursory. All of us need to recognize and feel this hunger, a hunger which cries out with the physical and spiritual hunger of others. How good we are at dressing up such outrages as poverty and hunger with our sophisticated politics, as we endeavour to absolve ourselves from simple action. Well, I don’t believe Jesus will accept that, or own it, because the bread which he gives is his very flesh, for the life of the world. And mere charity, in the sense of the benevolent giving from the surplus of our plenty, is not enough. The charity which we seek is rather the theological virtue, the unlimited loving-kindness which expresses itself when we stand alongside the disadvantaged and share their lot as Christ did. It was this distinction which Eduardo Galeano had in mind when he wrote,

I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person and learns from the other. Most of us have a lot to learn from other people.

Belonging to a Eucharistic community carries with it profound responsibility – to the beatitudes, to the Kingdom of God itself - the responsibilities of the kingdom – to act in ways which indicate our hunger, our dissatisfaction with the status quo. For many who dare to acknowledge this hunger, it is expressed in opposition to globalization, to a world run for the benefit of corporations, looking instead to a truly Eucharistic model of living – a world, as Timothy Gorringe puts it, ‘of mutual accountability, of just sharing, of common ownership, of non-hierarchical forms of power.’ In this sacrament, this wondrous presence, we are enabled to celebrate how far we have come, to recognize how far we still have to travel, to acknowledge the divine hunger which drives us, and the sublime nourishment and grace which will guide us home. In this mode of being we ourselves seek to become signposts of the Eucharistic heart of our faith and of all living. As Gerald Schlabach memorably writes, ‘

‘God sets a lavish table, hosting outcasts and enemies, feeding all with God’s own life. Incarnate in Jesus Christ and embodied still in bread and wine, God offers life to the world by a further miracle of incarnation through all these sinful, bumbling, short-falling Christian lives which yet become Eucharist in and for the world’.

To be Eucharist in and for the world – that is our vocation, the vocation of all the baptized, a vocation which finds distinctive focus and character in the vocation to be deacons, to be priests. I conclude with a well-known quote – well known because it is brilliant – and I offer it especially to those of you who have come out of retreat today, and who will be ordained to the diaconate within days now. It comes in the words of Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar, speaking to the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress.

. . . I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. . . . It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them, and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren’.