A few weeks ago St. Louis University authorities removed the statue of the celebrated Jesuit missionary priest, Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet SJ, from its campus where it had been for decades and moved it to the university’s museum. The statue depicted the zealous priest standing and praying over American Indians. The institution said that the statue was removed because some of the university students and faculty had protested that De Smet’s memorial statue was culturally insensitive, oppressive, and symbolic of racism, white supremacy, and colonialism.
How easily have the institution, its students and faculty forgotten the sacrifices of this missionary priest, his love for the Indians that he ministered to, their evident love that the Indians had for him, and his hard work for the missions? Has the services and contributions of this priest to the institution as a dean, treasurer and professor in the 1820s been so easily neglected and ignored for the sake of appeasing some aggrieved students and lectures? How easily has his intentions and ideals as a zealous disciple of Jesus Christ, converting thousands to the Catholic faith, been re-interpreted as being oppressive and insensitive in today’s world?
The removal of this memorial statue for the sake of political correctness, inclusivity, tolerance and acceptance is a grim reminder that a mere memorial is never enough to keep the memory of a person alive and what the person stood for. History can always be re-interpreted and ideals of the past judged by current biases and preferences. In addition to a memorial, what is also needed is a participation in the very spirit and values of the one being memorialized.
In the first covenant God made with the Israelites on Sinai read in Sunday’s First Reading, the people make a commitment to Moses, “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” Moses had written down “all the words of the Lord” and “erected an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.” Did they keep their promises to God? Did the memory of the erected altar and pillars and their being sprinkled with the blood of the young bulls keep them from ingratitude and rebelling against God and His laws? No! Memorials and words were not enough to keep them faithful to their promises.
The Letter to the Hebrews in the Second Reading reminds us of the uniqueness of the blood of Christ. It is through this blood that Christ “entered into the sanctuary,” and “obtained eternal redemption” for us, making it possible for us too to offer ourselves to God in worship with and through Jesus Christ. The blood of Christ “cleanses our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” In other words, in and through our communion with this blood of Christ, we participate in Christ’s complete self-offering to the Father in the Spirit.
That is why Jesus left us more than a written word or mere memorial of the Last Supper in the Eucharist. As we come into communion with the Blood of Christ in each Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, we are not just having a mental remembrance of a past event, a memorial of what was accomplished on Calvary, but we are privileged participants in that self-offering of Christ, His own “obedience unto death.” Jesus Christ’s pledge of self-offering when He came into this world, “Behold I come to do your will” (Heb 10:9) was fulfilled at the Cross, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) We too enter into this self-offering at each Mass as we recall and celebrate the paschal mystery.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Christ and the values He embodied and communicated to us in His Spirit are being rapidly re-interpreted in our days. Tolerance, inclusivity, compromise, acceptability, and sensitivity to the feelings of others and the like have gradually dominated God’s enduring love for us and the response He deserves from us, the truth lived and spoken in love, self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, wholehearted love and service to God and neighbor, fidelity to the divine will out of love for God, and dying to self so as to rise with Christ. Recalling the words of St. Paul, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?”(1Cor10:16), our hope is to remain rooted in Eucharistic communion with Christ if we are going to participate in what He embodies to us.
As we live in such a world that we can describe as one that tries to “empty the cross of its power,”(1Cor 1:17) we need to ask ourselves if we approach each Mass as the utterly unique memorial that has power to bring us into Christ’s own complete self-offering to the Father. Do we see in each Eucharist an expression and deepening of the self-offering that we made to God at baptism? Do we bring our struggles in daily life to this fount of mercy and draw strength to offer all to Him for our sanctification and for the salvation of souls? Are we only interested in sharing in His divine life without participating in His complete self-giving in a constantly changing world?
What happens when we fail to enter into each Eucharist with the constant willingness and readiness to participate in Christ’s own self-giving to the Father? Well, just reflect on the acceptance of “same-sex” marriage in Ireland. A country that has one of the lowest percentage of Sunday Mass attendance among baptized Catholics cannot be expected to uphold the value of marriage as a sacrament between a man and woman. Being disconnected from the Eucharist slowly leads to disconnection with Christ in His humanity, a loss of the sense of what Jesus Christ died for, and an easy compromise with the changing moral values of our times.
On this solemnity of Corpus Christi, we hear the awe-inspiring words of Jesus pronounced by the priest over the bread and wine. “This is my body…This is my blood.” At the end of Sunday’s Gospel passage, after the institution of the Eucharist, “after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” After the Eucharist, Jesus leads His disciples to the place where they will participate in His self-offering. He does the same to us today and always in each Eucharist. Our sacramental participation in Jesus’ self-offering in this Mass will be prolonged in the struggles and hardships of daily life as we strive to fulfill our baptismal commitments in our respective vocations and daily activities.
“This is my body…This is my blood.” No, this is no mere memorial that can be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and inclusivity. We are brought into communion with Him and all that He lived and died for. With His words and actions fresh in our minds and hearts, with His grace filling our souls at the present moment, with the hope of the heavenly banquet renewed in us, this is the time for us to fulfill the promises that we made to Him in baptism even as we live in a world that so readily forgets Him and easily re-interprets His words and actions.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!