In the year 303 A.D., the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued an order prohibiting Christians from gathering for public worship. A year later, in Roman-occupied North Africa, government officials arrested a group of about fifty Christians who had gathered in a parishioner’s home to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist. Saturninus, the priest who had been celebrating the Eucharist, and Emeritus, the parishioner in whose home the Eucharist was being celebrated, were both interrogated by one of the officials. And a transcript of the interrogation has survived to this day.
The Roman official said to the priest Saturninus, “By gathering all these together here you have acted against the orders of the emperors and the caesars.” Saturninus replied, “Unconcerned about that, we have been celebrating what is the Lord’s.” The official then said to the parishioner Emeritus, “You had to forbid them entry,” “them” being his fellow parishioners. “I couldn’t,” answered Emeritus, “for without what is the Lord’s we cannot exist” (On the Meaning of Sunday for Christian Prayer and Christian Life, Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger).
“Without what is the Lord’s—without the Eucharist—we cannot exist.” Powerful words to meditate upon on this feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Jesus says in our gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).
It is abundantly clear that the early Christians believed Jesus words about the Eucharist and acted accordingly. It is unclear, however, whether we believe them today. “Without what is the Lord’s—without the Eucharist—we cannot exist.” If these were our words, as they were their words, would we have closed our churches? Would we have followed the orders of the emperors and caesars of today? Would we have allowed what is the Lord’s—the Eucharist—to be labeled “unessential”?
I’m going to go off script for a moment here in response to a very helpful email I received after last night’s 5 p.m. Mass. A parishioner asked if these questions which I just asked were meant to be political. I want to make it abundantly clear that these questions are meant to be first and foremost religious. The question we have to ask ourselves first and foremost is this: “Is what Jesus said true?” And “Is what these early Christian martyrs said true? That’s the fundamental question and it’s a religious question. And if the answer is “Yes,” that has certain implications for how we are to act as a Church. Jesus’ words are quite clear and quite direct and quite profound. And the early Christian martyrs believed them and acted accordingly. They were not motivated by any sort of politics; they were motivated by the true religion which is the Catholic faith—the true religion which claims that the Eucharist truly is Jesus’ Body and Blood and that without it we cannot exist.
So, these questions I ask this morning are not meant to make people of a certain political party, or persuasion, or agenda, uncomfortable. They are meant to make all of us uncomfortable, including myself. For all of us, to some degree or another, bear some responsibility for the lack of appreciation of the Eucharist these days.
Friends, the point of my homily this morning is this: we need to instill in a new generation of Catholics the firm and unshakable conviction that without the Eucharist we cannot exist: That we need the Eucharist, we need Jesus’ Body and Blood, for our very life. Without the mana, the Israelites would not have survived their wanderings in the desert, and they would not have made it to the Promised Land. Without the new mana, without the Eucharist, we cannot survive our earthly wanderings, and we cannot make it to the Promised Land of Heaven.
“Without the Eucharist we cannot exist.” I’d like to conclude my homily with a brief litany of the Blessed Host, a litany of the Eucharist, written by St. Faustina which expresses this idea so beautifully. St. Faustina prays, and we pray:
O Blessed Host, our only hope in all the sufferings and adversities of life.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the midst of darkness and of storms within and without.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in life and at the hour of our death.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the midst of adversities and floods of despair.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the midst of falsehood and treason.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the midst of the darkness and godlessness which inundate the earth.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the longing and pain in which no one will understand us.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the toil and monotony of everyday life.
O Blessed Host, our only hope amid the ruin of our hopes and endeavors.
O Blessed Host, our only hope in the midst of the ravages of the enemy and the efforts of hell.
[O Blessed Host, our only hope, without you we cannot exist.]
(Diary of St. Faustina n. 356).