Corpus Christi

By Abbot Owen Purcell

Note: Abbot Owen gave this homily at Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kan. on June 10, 2007.

Back somewhere in the 1980s PBS had a series of ten programs on the thinking of Joseph Campbell, a professor of Mythology at Swarthmore. The series was entitled, “The Power of Myth.” I viewed all ten programs with a friend in Garnett, KS in two settings interrupted only by a wonderful steak dinner. Campbell’s thought made a profound impression on me. I read a couple of his books. He studies the myths of many cultures. He looked on the myth as a story around a deep kernel of truth and the perpetuation of the myth was insured by ritual. He looked for what are called archetypes, practices and teachings that seemed universal to human beings past and extending to the present. To eat of the sacrifice offered to a god or goddess was a sign of union with the deity or a superhero. Campbell saw this sharing as a common thread in human religious worship.

One myth and practice struck me especially. It is so fitting; at least it seems to me, for this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. In parts of the Arctic, after a walrus is speared and dragged upon the shore leaving a trail of blood, the hunters open the still warm body, cut out the heart, which is passed around and eaten. This is done out of respect for the slain walrus and the aim is to attain some of the courageous spirit of the animal, to be one with that spirit. The parallel with the Eucharist is striking.

We come to the table of the Lord, to eat the bread and drink the wine of Melchisedek, the bread broken on the hillside for the 5000, of the ritual described by Paul in First Corinthians for the same reason as the Eskimos ate the still warm heart of the walrus. We, too, want food for the journey of life and courage for living. We eat the true flesh and drink the true blood of Christ so that we can deepen the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us. We seek union with Jesus by drinking his blood and eating his flesh.

Paul asks us in the Second reading to “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” How do we proclaim that death? Not by words. We follow our participation in the Supper, the Eucharistic meal and sacrifice by doing what Jesus did after the Last Supper. He asked for a basin of water, wrapped a towel around himself and began to wash the feet of his followers. You and I must do that. We Christians are the people of the basin and the towel. To share in the Eucharist means to kneel in awe of the mystery, but to be involved, to take action. If we do not, perhaps the King at the Last Judgment as described in Matthew 25, will ask us the same question Jesus asked the apostles in the Gospel, “Why do you not give them something to eat?” We, encouraged by eating the flesh and drinking the blood, will want to wash the feet of the naked, sick, hungry, and homeless. What we do to these we do to Jesus.

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