Everything We Love is Different -- Sermon for Corpus Christi, June 11th, 2023
“I didn’t know there was a Catholic church in Goshen.” I hear that phrase quite often. “I didn’t know there was a Catholic church in Goshen.” I’ve heard it from Catholics in Fort Wayne or South Bend, who identify Goshen, Indiana with a very particular non-Catholic Christian ecclesial community. I’ve also heard it from many people here in Goshen. I’ve even heard it in businesses on Main Street, within sight of our church!
When people from South Bend tell me they didn’t know there was a Catholic Church, it’s because they’ve realized that I’m not, in fact, a Notre Dame graduate student and they ask where I’m “from.” With people in Goshen, it’s often the very first thing they say. I could be browsing the grocery shelves and hear behind my back, “I didn’t even know there was a Catholic church in Goshen.”
What these Goshenites have right, is that externals matter. The fact that a man is at the grocery store wearing a Roman cassock means, in fact, that there is a Catholic church nearby. The Catholic clergy dress differently because the Church they represent is different. And She is a Church who makes Herself present through outward, visible signs.
Just how different is Catholicism from other expressions of Christianity? In the classic 20th Century Catholic novel, Brideshead Revisited, the non-Catholic Charles remarks to his Catholic friend, Sebastian: “[Catholics] seem just like everyone else.” To which Sebastian retorts, “My dear Charles, that’s precisely what they’re not, particularly in this country (England) where there are so few. … Everything they think is important is different from other people. They try to cover it up, but it comes out all the time.”
On the Feast of Corpus Christ (The Body of Christ) today, we recall one of the most important ways that Catholics are in fact very different, a way in which everything we think is important is different from other people. Today we celebrate our faith in the miracle of the Eucharist, that the Holy Communion that the Lord shares with us from His altar is in fact the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, really, truly, and substantially present. We recall today that the Eucharist is not symbolic – the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine, and while retaining the appearance thereof, they become something entirely different: the true Body and Blood of the Savior.
And yet, we know that many Catholics do not believe in this saving truth, and that even fewer Catholics live in accord with this faith. Four years ago, Pew Research found that over a third of Catholics who attend Mass weekly do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and that sixty-nine percent of Catholics overall believe that Holy Communion is a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Many people think that this is a catechesis, or teaching problem. It’s true that bad teaching has had a role to play in this problem, and that good teaching about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist will play an important role in correcting this dire situation. But lack of faith in the Eucharist is not a learning problem. It is a love problem.
The Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh could place on the lips of his character Sebastian Flyte those words – “everything they think is important is different from other people” not only because he saw that Catholics had been taught to think differently, but because formation as a Catholic forms us to love differently.
If Catholics, when they are truly living as Catholics, think that different things are important, it is because they have been taught to love differently. Sebastian would have done even better to say “Everything they love is different than other people.” If we want more Catholics to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we need to think not only about the way we teach about the Eucharist, but about how we express our love of the Eucharist.
When we come to Holy Mass, are we here to worship Christ in the Eucharist, or are we here to be entertained? If our worship of Almighty God is full of Christian language, but still beats with the rhythms of the world, what is it really teaching us to love? If it is sentimental and saccharine, does it form us to have a love that lasts, or only one that perdures as long as it still makes you feel good.
In our Lenten series this year, we saw that beautiful liturgy – liturgy that elevates us above the mundane – is an important remedy to the vice of sloth. Worship that is difficult gives us the chance to practice having different loves. Christ tells us today, “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” The Eucharist is a foretaste of Heaven. The celebration of the Eucharist ought to teach us to love Heaven more than this world, which necessitates worshiping Christ in the Eucharist in a way that is clearly not of this world.
We are formed to have different loves by preparing ourselves to receive Christ in the Eucharist. In the Sequence today we heard: “Bad and good the feast are sharing, Of what divers dooms preparing, Endless death, or endless life.” To be the good for whom the consequence of the reception of the Eucharist is endless life, rather than the bad for whom the consequence of receiving Holy Communion unworthily is endless death, we have to live in a way that shows that we love differently than the world loves, and that when we fall back into loving like the world does, especially through mortal sin, we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion by sacramental confession.
Today, we kick off the parish phase of the National Eucharistic Revival, in which the Church in the United States is working to renew our faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. Last year was the Diocesan phase, which began in our diocese with the biggest Eucharistic procession in the entire country lead by Bishop Rhoades in Warsaw, and included many other diocesan-wide events. In our parish, renewing our faith in the Eucharist has been an ongoing priority for the past six years.
So far, we have promoted devotion to Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist by celebrating Holy Mass in a manner that emphasizes Christ’s real presence and forms our hearts to desire Him above the things of this world. We re-started our Eucharistic Corpus Christi procession. We have focused on singing the Mass rather than just singing at Mass – making the official texts of the Mass a more important part of our worship of God and judiciously choosing texts and melodies are that decidedly not infused with the rhythms that train our hearts to love anything other than God. We restored the use of the Communion patens, which emphasize to us that even the very smallest particle of the Sacred Host is the real Body and Blood of Christ. At our weekday Masses, we restored the ancient and venerable custom of the priest approaching the altar and offering the Holy Sacrifice while facing liturgical east, leading the faithful toward an encounter with the Eucharistic Lord rather than turning towards them in a manner that can overemphasize his own personality. And we greatly expanded the opportunities for receiving the Sacrament of Penance, so that each of us can have a soul that is better prepared to receive Christ, really present in the Eucharist.
With having done so much already to promote devotion to Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, what is there left for us to do during this parish phase of the national Eucharistic revival? I humbly believe that we are ahead, but there is plenty more we can do. This Lent, we will restore another beautiful tradition: Forty Hours, in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for forty continuous hours and the entire parish comes together for acts of devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. We are kicking off this parish phase by taking the Eucharistic Lord to the streets of our neighborhood in an expanded Eucharistic procession for the first time in many years. Today, people will definitely know that there is a Catholic church in Goshen! We also commissioned a beautiful processional platform on which the Eucharist will be born in the monstrance to give It even greater honor.
There is more than we could do as well. After a year and a half of our weekday Masses being celebrated ad orientem, with the priest and people together looking towards the Eucharistic Lord from the same side of the altar, many people who are not able to come to Mass during the week have asked to experience this ancient and venerable way of offering Mass on Sundays as well. We also see more and more people, especially young people, desiring to express reverence for Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist by receiving Holy Communion while kneeling. Many others have requested that there be a way to do so without damaging their fragile joints or without drawing attention to themselves. Maybe there is a way that we could accommodate those desires?
For some people, those might be scary thoughts. It might sound like someone is trying to force you to do something differently, or to go back to something you do not miss. But we have to constantly return to the most important question: What, or rather whom, am I being formed to love? And how can we respond to a growing desire to adore Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist in an other-worldly way?
As we kick off this parish phase of the national Eucharistic revival, each of us should consider the place of the Eucharist in his or her life. Are you willing to live differently because of your faith in the Eucharist? To better prepare your soul for the Eucharist through more frequent sacramental confession? To worship in a way that forms your soul to love Christ and His heavenly kingdom more than the kingdom of this world?
If so, maybe more people will start to realize that there is a Catholic church in Goshen, Indiana, because, “Everything they [love] is different than other people. They try to cover it up, but it comes out all the time.”
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, A.D. MMXXIII