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You may remember, a couple of Christmases ago, Bishop Rhoades gave every household in our diocese, as a Christmas gift, a copy of Matthew Kelly’s book, “Rediscover Catholicism.” It’s a very, very good book. It provides a very easy to ready look at everything from the Mass and Sacraments, the Bible, prayer, fasting, the role of the Saints, and so on. And I have heard more comments from parishoners about this book than any other. It’s obvious a great number of you are reading it and it is having a positive impact on your lives as Christians, and I encourage all of you to read some or all of it.
I’ve been flipping around the book, reading sections as they interest me and Matthew Kelly tells some wonderful stories about the beauty of our Catholic faith. One, in particular, really stuck with me and I’d like to share it with you, especially on this day, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, in which we celebrate in a particular way the greatest gift we have in our Catholic faith: the Eucharist.
Matthew Kelly writes:
“Years ago, I received a letter from a priest who had worked as a lay missionary in China before he returned to his homeland of America and became a priest. He shared many stories about the Church in China, but there is one that made a huge impression on me. It’s a story I have told hundreds of times and one that always humbles me.
Many years after being ordained a priest, he returned to China, incognito for a brief visit. Even today, there are priests and bishops in prison in China for nothing other than refusing to let the Communist government control their churches. For this reason, nobody in China knew that he was a priest.
On the second night of his visit, he was awakened in the middle of the night by the noise of people moving around the house. A little scared, he got up and went to his door. Opening it, he asked one of the men living in the house what was going on. His Chinese host replied, “We’re going to the wall.” He inquired further, “What is the wall?” His host replied, “Come with us and we will show you.”
There were more than twenty people living in the small house, and while none of them knew he was a priest, they knew he could be trusted.
Not satisfied with the answers he had received, he went downstairs and found one of the older women whom he had known many, many years earlier and asked her, “What’s going on? Where are you all going?” She gently replied, “We’re going to the wall.” He persisted, “Yes, but what is the wall.” She replied with the same gentleness, “Come with us and we will show you.”
He got dressed and ventured out into the night with the group. They walked for miles and miles and along the way other groups joined them. Now, all together, they numbered almost 120 men, women and children. Soon they came to a forest and as they began to walk into it, he noticed that some of the men in the group were climbing trees.
Several minutes later they came to a clearing in the forest, and in the middle of the clearing was a small wall about four feet tall, from an old, derelict building. The old woman turned to him and smiled with all the love in her heart, and though he sensed an incredible excitement in here he did not know what to make of it. The people seemed excited, but he was scared.
Looking up into the trees, he noticed that there was a circle of men in the trees surrounding the clearing. And now, as the group came close to the wall, they fell down on their knees before it.
Moments later, one man got up and walked toward the wall, then, reaching out with one hand, he took a single brick out of the wall. Behind the brick was a tiny monstrance holding the Eucharist. The group spent one hour in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and then the same man got up, approached the wall, and replaced the single brick. The men came down from their lookout positions in the trees and the group went quietly home.
The next day he told the people that he was a priest and they told him that they had not had Mass in their village for ten years. Once or twice a week they would go to the wall in the middle of the night, risking their lives, to spend an hour with Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist.
The following night, the priest said Mass at the wall and replaced the host. It was one of the highlights of his priesthood.”
Do we truly realize, do we fully appreciate, the gift we’ve been given? What we receive is Jesus Christ - not a symbol of him, but his real presence. The host we receive is God in our hands. The host we consume is the the infinite God, creator of the universe, coming to dwell within our very being; within our hearts.
Last summer, millions of teenagers from all around the world converged in Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day. And without question, the highlight of the trip was when two million teenagers, dancing, cheering, laughing and speaking in a cacophony of different languages, came to a complete standstill when Pope Benedict XVI brought out Jesus in the monstrance, and all two million knelt in unison and prayed in perfect silence for a half hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Two million teenagers do not go stone cold silent for a piece of ordinary bread. They do it for God Himself, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
People living under Communist rule do not risk their lives and go to a wall in the middle of a forest to worship a symbol of God. They risk their lives to worship God Himself, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Tonight, you and I will go to the wall. Tonight, you and I will exercise our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ in a simple, yet very significant way, as we celebrate this amazing gift in our Corpus Christi procession. And in doing so, you and I respond to Jesus’ love for us.
A love, in which Christ says, “I give my life to you; to dwell within you, so you might have eternal life.” And our response, as we process with our Lord in the monstrance, says to him in reply, “And I will follow you, and you alone, wherever you choose to lead me. I will fall down on my knees in adoration before you. I will risk everything for you, even my life. Because you risked yours for me.”