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Having received the Body of Christ, we are the Body of Christ

Archbishop Wenski's homily at the start of 5 Nights of Fire at St. Louis Church

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the start of 5 Nights of Fire at St. Louis Church in Pinecrest, Jan. 15, 2023.

Adore te devote, is a hymn — one of four eucharistic hymns composed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

I devoutly adore you, hidden deity,
Who are truly hidden beneath these appearances.
My whole heart submits to You,
because in contemplating You, it is fully deficient.

Sight, touch, taste all fail in their judgment of you,
But hearing suffices firmly to believe.
I believe all that the Son of God has spoken;
There is nothing truer than this word of Truth.

The real presence of Jesus – body and blood, soul and divinity – is hidden beneath appearances of bread and wine. Sight, touch, taste all fail us; hearing suffices to believe. For if Jesus has told us it is so, it is so, for he can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Faith comes through hearing – not through sight, nor taste or touch. There’s the story of a woman who brought her young child to church, and with the child in tow knelt before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer. She told the child: “See that red light next to the tabernacle. That light tells us that Jesus is present in the tabernacle – so let us pray a while to him.”

The mother lost herself in prayer and so the child pulled on her skirt and said: Mommy, when the light turns green, can we go then?

On the cross only the divinity was hidden,
But here humanity is also hidden.
Yet believing and confessing both,
I ask for what the penitent thief asked.

I do not see wounds as Thomas did,
But I confess that You are my God.
Make me believe much more in You,
Hope in you and love You.

We worship Jesus – because he is True God as well as being True Man. As Aquinas notes, on the cross Jesus’ divinity was hidden. His dying proved his humanity only too well. In the Eucharist, we profess our faith in Jesus – true God and true Man. We seek what the good thief sought: “remember me in your Kingdom.” And while there are accounts of hosts bleeding, these accounts may be sometimes helpful to increase our piety but they are not necessary for us to believe. We remember the words of Jesus to Thomas: blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.

I remember when I was a newly ordained priest, one of my duties was First Friday calls to the homebound. (When I was ordained, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion were still in the future.) I brought holy Communion to the homebound and was constantly edified by the simple faith of God’s people. I would also celebrate Mass at a nursing home – I believe it belonged to Jackson Hospital. The altar was a table in the dining room and the nursing residents were seated – mostly in wheelchairs – around tables in the dining room. It was quite austere: no music, no beautiful liturgical appointments, no singing. I am not sure whether many of the people heard or understood my homily. I felt uncomfortable, ill at ease. Yet, when I raised the Host after consecration, one elderly lady who had apparently been half asleep with head down on the table, when I raised up the Host, she spoke in a clear voice: Jesus, I believe.

O memorial of our Lord's death,
Living Bread that gives life to man,
Grant my soul to live on You,
And always to savor your sweetness.

Again, when I was a newly ordained priest, a Puerto Rican family asked me to visit a loved one who was in the VA hospital. I went – and this man was a typical jibaroguajiro in Cuban. He was dying of cancer – in an advanced stage – and so I anointed him and then asked if he wished to receive Communion. He answered, Si quiero, Padre. I gave him Communion and before he could swallow the host, he vomited – and quickly took a Kleenex and retrieved the host.

Now I started going to daily Mass when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. And as an altar server I would often go out before the priest to light the candles before he opened the tabernacle to retrieve hosts to make a sick call, and so I had often professed faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, but as I retrieved the host from the vomit of that dying man – who I am sure received the graces of Viaticum – I thank God that he gave me this opportunity to show, if only to myself, that I did really and truly believe that hidden in this piece of tasteless bread was the “Living Bread that gives life to man.”

Lord Jesus, Good Pelican,
clean me, the unclean, with Your Blood,
One drop of which can heal
the entire world of all its sins.

Lord, Jesus, Good Pelican... You might see on some altars a pelican. The early Christians saw the pelican as an image of Christ. A mother pelican if she did not find fish to feed her young, would pierce her side and feed the young with her own flesh and blood. Clean me, the unclean, with Your Blood. Because of the pandemic most of our churches have not yet resumed Communion under both kinds. In any case, we do receive the whole Jesus whether we receive Him under the species of bread or wine; but to receive under both species is a fuller sign of our unity with Christ, and with one another.

When I was welcomed in Orlando as coadjutor bishop in 2003, many Haitians accompanied me to Orlando, including a young man who had recently arrived from Haiti. Communion under both species would be extremely rare in Haiti. Only those of us in rich countries can afford the wine to consecrate for the entire congregation. But this young man was extremely impressed – because he saw something that we might have missed. He said that there were rich people, poor people, white people, black people, and all drank from the same cup.

We eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood so that we might become what we have received. What unites us – or rather, Who unites us, is stronger than anything that we should allow to divide us. “We are one Body, the Body of Christ.”

Our participation at Mass – and our reception of Holy Communion – is not something private. Holy Communion is not just about “me and Jesus.” We were baptized so that we could participate in the eucharistic banquet – and this banquet is a foretaste of the Eternal banquet of Heaven when God will seat us at table with himself. But we receive Communion so that becoming whom we receive we go out into the world to witness to the Gospel by sharing with the world what we have received. Having received the Body of Christ, we are the Body of Christ, the Christ who brought sight to blind, who made the lame walk and who fed the hungry thousands.

The Mass is ended. Ita Missa est. But perhaps a better translation would be, go, it is the sending. Nourished by the Eucharist and instructed by the Word of God, we are sent to heal the broken hearted, to set captives free. The Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament commits us to service.

In commenting on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “...How can we exclude anyone from our care? Rather we must recognize Christ in the poorest and the most marginalized, those whom the Eucharist — which is communion in the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us — commits us to serve. As the parable of the rich man, who will remain forever without a name, and the poor man called Lazarus clearly shows, ‘in the stark contrast between the insensitive rich man and the poor in need of everything, God is on the latter’s side.’ We too must be on this same side.”

And so, the last verse of Aquinas’s hymn:

Jesus, whom now I see hidden,
I ask You to fulfill what I so desire:
That the sight of Your Face being unveiled
I may have the happiness of seeing Your glory. Amen.