Monday, June 20, 2011
The Body and Blood of the Lord
June 26, 2011
The Body and Blood of the Lord
John 6:51-58 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Though it’s now six months old and seasonally dated, a story that appeared in the local newspaper last Christmas morning has, I believe, direct application to the feast we celebrate today. Released by the Associated Press and headlined “Balloon Takes Santa on Wild Utah Ride,” the tale may serve as a metaphor for our own surprising journeys when we find ourselves lifted above terra firma. The story:
“If only Santa was as good with hot air balloons as with reindeer sleighs. A man in a Santa outfit took a wild ride through Utah skies Christmas Eve when his balloon took off without a pilot. The ‘Salt Lake Tribune’ reports that Santa was tossing candy to kids from the balloon during an elementary school fundraiser when the craft landed too hard and the pilot tumbled out. That left Santa alone and the lighter balloon shot back into the air. [It was reported that] Santa traveled 1.7 miles before the craft lost enough air to come down. A crowd at the school tailed the balloon through town and helped hold it down once it landed. Neither Santa nor the pilot were hurt.” (Associated Press, December 25, 2010)
One can only imagine the terror old Santa must have experienced when he was propelled airborne without a pilot. Probably got right down on his knees in the balloon’s basket and begged heaven for mercy! And heaven heard his plea as hot air escaped the renegade balloon, allowing it to descend safely into the waiting hands of God-sent townspeople.
There are times, too, when we are suddenly lifted off our feet and dragged skyward to God-knows-where. But for us such a ride need not be the fearsome experience it was for Santa. For not only has the pilot not fallen out of the basket as we ascend; rather, he is solidly beside us as we rise heavenward.
Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, and in the gospel reading we hear, Jesus assures us that he has come down to us that we might go up with him. That is, he has descended and taken on flesh that we might ascend having partaken of divinity. St. John writes, “Jesus said, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” (John 6:51) Indeed, as we take Jesus into ourselves through reception of the Eucharist, we become spiritually flight worthy, the cares of earth fading into the distance as mystical buoyancy draws us heavenward.
Two months ago, on Friday of Easter week, our Holy Cross community at St. Joseph’s Center buried one of our number who had become increasingly flight worthy during the course of his two-year bout with cancer and who had been, in fact, a licensed pilot in healthier times. As was mentioned in his funeral homily, Brother Alfred Mitchell, CSC, had always seemed to live “above it all,” his carefree attitude about most things an inspiration to some, an irritation to others. He just didn’t care about so many things that, in the end, didn’t really deserve being caring about. The thing is, Alfred knew the difference long before the rest of us caught on. While, in earlier days, the rest of the community “suited up” in professional attire for the classroom, the elfish Alfred donned jogging shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. When first we lived and ministered together in 1978 in Forestville, Maryland, I was a bit stunned by Alfred’s casual attitude. Who does he think he is, living “above it all”? I wondered. It took me many years to find the answer to that question. It took cancer to discover who Alfred really was.
Even as we others fretted and fussed about personal health issues of far less consequence than his own terminal diagnosis, Alfred remained “above it all,” nary a whine or whimper ever heard emanating from the grinning man of 80-plus years who, still attired in jogging shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops, dragged his oxygen tank from chapel to dining room to TV room. Indeed, while some thought him in denial about his condition, it was surely not so. Rather, it became apparent to me as the end drew near that Alfred had more resigned himself to God’s loving care than to the ravages of cancer. There was anxiety, for sure, but stronger was anticipation of something wonderful of which he’d gotten just a glimpse when, as a pilot, he had risen “above it all.” Alfred knew where he was going. Earlier flights had hinted at eternity.
On this Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we hear Jesus asserting to his disciples, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” (John 6:51) Yes, Jesus came down that we might go up. And thus it was that Brother Alfred became flight worthy after a religious life of countless Communions had assured him of mystical buoyancy. It was an easy trip home for this impish man who lived his whole life “above it all.”
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