Saturday, June 21, 2014

2014 June 22 - Corpus Christi - walking away

It was the worst day… of the worst week… of what may arguably have been the worst ambush ever inflicted on our US military history.  The US led United Nations forces had pushed too far north into Korea and had gotten almost cutoff before realizing they were surrounded by an overwhelming Chinese force.  They waited too long to make a retreat and ended up running the ‘gauntlet’ – that’s what they called it - a long stretch of road through a valley with Chinese controlling the heights on both sides, and they were systematically picked off.  One vehicle would get hit, creating a roadblock, and everyone else was just a sitting duck.  In the end the US lost around 11 thousand troops in those few days, and I couldn’t even find the count of wounded.  The 2nd Infantry Division was devastated… losing over 4000 men.
I tell this little bit of history because of something their commander, Major General Dutch Keiser, said.  He had a body guard assigned to him, Corporal Jake Thorpe who had stuck by him through many battles, dedicating his life to protect the General.  While driving the jeep through the ‘gauntlet’ that day, Corporal Thorpe had been in the back manning the machine gun, when he was picked off by a sniper.  Keiser had loaded the dead body of his friend into the back of the jeep to take him out. However, there were SO many wounded along the road that eventually they had to leave Corporal Thorpe’s body on the side of the road to make room for the wounded.
Regardless of what else Keiser had been through… he said –“it was a hard thing to do…to walk away from the body of the man who had given his life to save me.”  (1)
Could you do it?  Could you walk away from the body of the man who had given his life to save you?
Many people have walked away.
You know, we talk and we talk about how, in the Mass, the bread and wine really do become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  But still, some people walk away.
Talking about it obviously ain’t enough.  Yes – we NEED the head-knowledge of WHY we believe that when Jesus said ‘This is my body’… he really MEANT it!  And today’s Gospel from John chapter 6 is one of the main supporting texts given to us by God to help us understand WHY we believe it.  Let me just quickly re-explain that in case you’ve forgotten.  Jesus is telling the disciples – which is the big crowd – that they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Now – they immediately started murmuring – what’s this about?  We can’t eat human flesh and drink human blood – God specifically forbids that in His law!  This raised some serious doubts in the minds of those disciples.  In fact, if we would keep reading just a few more lines beyond where today’s Gospel stopped, we hear that “many of them walked away from Jesus and returned to their former way of life”.  That’s an important point… people were walking away from Jesus BECAUSE of what he was teaching.  Now – if Jesus HADN’T meant exactly what he said, this would be the perfect time for him to say – wait a minute – come back - you misunderstood me… I..I was only talking symbolically, you know… a ‘figure of speech’.  But instead of saying that, he upped the ante:  Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you!”  They couldn’t take it… this was too much…and they walked away.  Again he could have stopped them but instead, he turned to the 12 apostles and offered to them… do you want to walk away too?  He was ready to lose ALL of his followers if they didn’t want to accept this one, central teaching:  This IS my body.
They believed what he said was true…. And you and I continue to take Jesus at his Word.  It’s still a stretch, but at least we can logically make sense why we should believe it.  But head knowledge isn’t enough.  We have to believe what we know to be true.
We all have doubts – probably just about everyone in here sometimes wonders… is it true?  When Fr. Eugene is up here praying the Eucharistic Prayer, It sometimes seems so mundane …. Like just wafers and wine.  The people around us don’t really seem excited by the fact that the Body and Blood of Jesus are on the altar, so it can test our faith.  You’re not alone!  We all go through that.  So – it’s not enough to ‘know’ the truth, we have to practice our faith and exercise it. 
Here are a couple of ideas…One idea is when Fr. Eugene holds up the bread and says, ‘Do this in memory of me’, even if you don’t FEEL like it at the moment, bow slightly and silently say to yourself ‘my Lord and my God’… or ‘Jesus, I believe it is You… but help my unbelief’.  When we don’t FEEL like Jesus is present, we might have to rely on our head knowledge to keep our Faith alive until God chooses to reveal the truth in a way that touches our heart.  He may never touch our hearts… but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The Eucharist truly is the source and the summit of our Faith… yet people continue to walk away.  When I ask the people who are still here WHY they HAVEN’T left, almost every time, the answer is the Eucharist.  Many people DO recognize that we are privileged to have Jesus in our midst – on our altar - and He feeds us with His own flesh. 
It would be a hard thing to do, don’t you think?…
”to walk away from the body of the man who had given his life to save me…and you.

(1) "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" - David Halberstam

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