Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

I’d like to begin by telling you about a very unusual individual. His name is James Alison. He’s a Catholic priest and theologian. I had never heard of him until about four months ago. Later I found out why. He was born and raised in England as an Evangelical. He became a Catholic at the age of eighteen, later joined the Dominican order and was ordained priest in 1988. After studying at Oxford, he was sent to a Jesuit university in Brazil where he received a doctorate in theology. He was kicked out of the Dominicans in 1995, probably because of his open espousal and writing about his homosexual life style. He’s in a very unusual position: he’s a Catholic priest "without title." He belongs to no diocese or religious order, but his priesthood has never been censured in any way. So he roams the globe—lecturing, teaching, publishing books and begging for his food. He says he’s living the authentic Dominican lifestyle as St. Dominic envisioned it. The funny thing is that, while he’s hardly ever mentioned in Catholic circles, among non-Catholics he’s considered one of the most serious and articulate defenders of the Catholic faith. His latest book is entitled Undergoing God. The book has two parts: the first is a series of essays on traditional topics of Catholic faith; the second part consists of a series of essays defending homosexual love as divinely ordained. Whatever you think of the second part, the first part is very good Catholic theology.

In this book he includes a chapter on the nature of worship which applies very nicely to this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. He describes the regular, ongoing celebration of the Eucharist as a slow, lengthy incorporation into the presence of Christ in our world. Listen to this passage: "When people tell me that they find the mass boring, I say to them: ‘It’s supposed to be boring, or at least seriously underwhelming.’ (The Eucharist) is a long-term education in becoming un-excited, since only that will enable us to dwell in a quiet bliss which doesn’t abstract from our present or our surroundings or our neighbor, but which increases our attention and our appreciation for what is around us." (Pp. 45-46)

The celebration of the Eucharist, the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ, wishes to make us more alert to the world we live in, to our own life in that world and our life with others. It’s not supposed to be like a rock concert that overwhelms our senses until we are lost in the screaming and yelling. In that context participants have no concern other than the stimulation of the moment. There are Eucharists that certainly have their highs (Sunday’s installation), but they always include reflective moments as well. Other Eucharists on other days have no "highs" at all. Taking both together it’s just really like the meals in the dining room. Sometimes there are real feasts and other times there’s just nutrition (we hope). One Friday night meal at St. Meinrad the main dish was scallops. They were tough and tasteless. Coming out of the dining room Fr. Gavin remarked out loud: "That meal was nothing more than a muscular experience." Some Eucharists can be profound spiritual experiences; others are tough and tasteless.

But we continue to celebrate the Eucharist regularly, to receive it as spiritual food. There’s an irony here. In this lengthy process of incorporation into the presence of Christ, the nature of the spiritual food changes. Gradually we ourselves become the spiritual food that is being consumed by the Word of God. "When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself." (Jn 12:32) To celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord is to be thankful for the spiritual food given to us, but also to celebrate that we are becoming food for the Word of God.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Fr. Matthias' homilies. I always find them insightful and challenging.