This is quite a joyous time of year. It is replete with feasts, holidays, and ceremonies of every kind. Amidst the graduations and summer activities ramping into full swing are the wonderful celebrations we have in our liturgical calendar. The last few Sundays contained major feasts reflecting the core truths of our faith: respectively, we observed the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, the arrival of the Holy Spirit (and birth of the Church), the recognition of God as One God in Three Persons, and finally the solemnity of Corpus Christi. All of these liturgical feasts are about the love and mercy of God who does not want us to be bereft of His presence or His gifts, all of which we joyfully acknowledge with gratitude. The mysteries contained in these liturgies are at the heart of who we are as Christians and so they act as reminders that God has ‘outdone Himself’ in mercy and love. The light of His love for us shines bright, especially in the gift of His presence through His Body and Blood given for us. These are meant to sustain us and to make us as a light for others, luminous with His presence within.
The feast we celebrate this week, Corpus Christi, is about one of the most magnificent acts of love ever. This act of love is repeated every time a priest consecrates bread and wine, which through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. When Jesus offered this gift on the night before He died, He made it clear that He intended for His followers to literally take His Body and Blood within them. He had indicated this earlier, as seen in His famous ‘Bread of Life’ discourse in John 6. The discourse had scandalized those who did not understand Him when He said that we must eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. But on the night of the Last Supper Jesus did as He had said He would: He blessed and broke the bread, handing it to His disciples with the very words, “Take and eat.” He did likewise with the cup. So while it is amazing that we actually do consume the Eucharist, He left it as such so we could internalize His presence and the many graces we need that we might take this forth into the world. Therefore we cannot receive His Body and Blood and remain immobile; Jesus invites us to prayer and He moves us outward in love and mercy toward others.
The Body and Blood of Jesus should fill us with nothing short of luminosity. Just as the beauty contained in nature reflects the glory of God, so it is with the luminosity which comes through the process of becoming holy. Luminosity is not something that can be contained; the point is to share light, not hide it. An image that comes to mind is that of a beautiful painting, a print of which hangs in my home. It is called Chalice and Host Surrounded by Garlands of Flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem. (Seen at right) What strikes me most is the luminosity of the host: there is a light emanating from within it. If you look closely, you can see the faint image of the corpus, that is, the body of Jesus Christ, in the midst of the consecrated host. That luminosity does not remain only in the unconsumed host or wine, but rather it is what we receive when we partake of it. It is the very presence of Jesus. In the painting you can see that the host is above the chalice, but so close that the radiance seems to be connecting the bread and wine become Body and Blood. For me this symbolizes that the two are as one; and so the chalice gleams with what is within it and the host radiates outward. The image is professing the message of Jesus: “Go forth and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
Light and fire are always signs of sanctity. Many holy people have been seen throughout the ages as being aglow with love, mercy, and charity. Painters and iconographers typically paint a halo (properly called a nimbus) around the head of holy ones for this reason. A nimbus is not a ring which hovers over the head of a saint, but rather it is a truer, more accurate depiction of the holiness that emanates from within them. Holy people do glow with the love of God. Their actions speak of Jesus and their presence brings His peace. And the more we are filled with the presence of the Lord through prayer, the sacraments, and the graces of God, the more we will glow, too. If this seems a bit outlandish, I would challenge you to recognize that you probably have seen or experienced the glow of love. For example, who has not seen a radiant bride or groom? They are filled with joy and love for one another and so they seem to glow. And if you have ever felt that wonderful ‘warmth’ in the act of loving another person, you probably also were aglow with love. This, then, is how it is for the holy ones. When we are around them we somehow intuitively know that we are in the presence of holiness, the continuous radiance of God’s presence within them. Years ago I had such an experience at Christmas Eve midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As massive as that building is, when (Pope) St. John Paul II entered the building, we could feel his presence long before we could see him. It was absolutely electric: the crowd responded with spontaneous applause because it was seemingly the only way we could respond. It was not the same as encountering a rock star. It was so much deeper because it was truly a sense of being in the presence of the holy.
Similarly, we are given a great opportunity to respond to the presence of Jesus. Every time we partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are given the opportunity to grow in radiance through His power and presence. Even if we do not feel anything, and most often we do not, we can rely on faith to know that the truth of His presence is so. This is what holiness is: it is becoming so filled with Jesus that we cannot contain Him and so we overflow with His love and His light. We become luminous, not always in a way that is visible, but in our deeds of love and mercy offered to others. Every Christian is called to holiness and every one of us has the capability; it is not only for a select few. If we take Jesus into our hearts in Word and Sacrament, if we really ruminate on the Word (literally, chew on it) and we truly allow the Body and Blood of Christ to be active within us, cooperating with the power of the grace alive within us, then we will become radiant with His love. The Eucharist is dynamic and transformative; it is filled with the presence and the power of Christ. It does not ‘go away’ or diminish with time after we are finished receiving it, but rather it grows, empowering us to see temptation for what it is and to persevere in times of suffering and pain. It enlivens our faith in times of trouble, it helps us to become the disciples we hope to be, it helps us to grow in holiness, enriching and increasing our ability to reach out to others through our service, and it leads us home to God.
We are one Body of Christ and so together we can continue to work toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Jesus is counting on us to take Him into our hearts so that He does not remain only in the tabernacle or on the altar, but that we take Him outward into the world. We are not meant to merely witness the consecration, but rather to participate in it by responding to the words of Jesus: “Take and eat, take and drink.” The Eucharist is our sustenance and it is our food for the journey. Let us become luminous by participating in that which is full of light and love, sharing that luminosity with those to whom we are sent.
May we joyfully celebrate the gift of the Eucharist by taking Jesus into our hearts and embracing Him with love! May we be filled with wonder and awe in the presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! May we lead others to holiness by our works of love, no matter how small our acts may seem to be! May we learn to see the luminosity of God reflected in nature, in the holy ones in our midst, and in ourselves! May we generously share the light of His love with others! And may we come to the table of the Lord often and always, finding Jesus ever-present in welcome and love! Let us continue to meet in the Body and Blood of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Sangre de Cristo. I chose it because I love how the blood of Christ is flowing into the chalice, a clear depiction of His Body and Blood given for us, offered continuously. Jesus is looking outward as we gaze at Him, so it is apparent that He is more interested in us than He is in Himself. You can find the icon at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/la-sangre-de-cristo-242-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Following the icon is the de Heem painting which I described in the post, called Chalice and Host Surrounded by Garlands of Flowers. Jan Davidsz de Heem lived from 1606-84. You can find this work at http://www.lessingimages.com/viewimage.asp?i=40030421+&cr=236&cl=1.
Next is a Russian icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a saint who was said to literally look as if he was afire when he prayed, burning with the fire of God's love within him. He was probably one of the most luminous saints ever. I chose this version, among many, because not only is he seen at prayer, but there is an abundance of shades of yellow and gold in this icon. The entire icon seems to be bathed in light. The trees, (as connected to the next two images I have used), seem to glow, and even the very rock upon which he is kneeling has a yellow cast to it, as if even the rock is on fire at its core.
The fourth image is a painting by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. (1862-1918) He is well known for the many portraits he painted, but I think his landscapes are also quite marvelous. I chose this because the entire work seems to be bathed in light. The tree and its surroundings seem to shimmer. It was a reminder that creation is aglow with the beauty of God. Just as a painting is a reflection of the vision of the artist, so is creation a reflection of God.
Last is one of my own photographs, taken just outside Schulenberg, TX. It is obviously a vineyard, so it could not be more appropriate for this piece; in the liturgy the Body and Blood of Jesus begins as bread and wine, "the work of human hands and fruit of the vine." (From the Eucharistic prayers at Mass). But the most remarkable thing about this photo is that when I took the shot, my eye did not see the luminosity of the trees. I only saw it when I downloaded the photo on my computer. I promise that the photo was not altered in any way. This is what my camera ‘saw’ and so it is what God wanted us to see: luminosity.
Heart Speaks to Heart