Year C – Corpus Christi

On the Real Presence

(Gen.14:18-20; 1Cor.11:23–26; Lk.9:11-17)

Today, on Corpus Christi Sunday, we celebrate the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Pope Urban IV established this feast in 1264, shortly after a Eucharistic miracle occurred at Bolsena in Italy.

In 1263, a pilgrim priest travelling from Prague to Rome stopped at Bolsena to say Mass.  He’d been having doubts about his calling and had asked God to strengthen his faith.  During the consecration, when he raised the host up high, it started to bleed onto the altar cloth.  Today that blood-stained cloth is kept in the Cathedral in Orvieto.  I saw it in 2008.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says ‘My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’ (Jn.6:55-56).  He’s not speaking figuratively. He’s not speaking metaphorically. He’s speaking literally.

The Jews couldn’t understand it (Jn.6:60), and many people today can’t understand it either.  For how can the bread and wine at Communion possibly be the body and blood of Christ?  It doesn’t look any different.

Well, to teach us what really happens and to encourage our faith, every now and then God sends us a Eucharistic miracle.  Over the years there have been dozens of them, across 22 countries. [i] 

In their book ‘Unseen’ (2013), Ron Tesoriero and Lee Han explain three of these miracles. [ii]  The first was in 1996, in Buenos Aires, when Pope Francis was a bishop.  A priest found a host in a candle-stand.  He put the host in a bowl of water to dissolve it, and then he placed it in the tabernacle.  Eight days later the host had turned red, with something like blood oozing from it.

Pope Francis asked for photos and in 2004 a sample was sent to New York for forensic examination.  Several scientists investigated it, without knowing where it came from.

They identified the red substance as human heart tissue.  The presence of white blood cells indicated that the heart had suffered trauma.  It also indicated that the person was alive when the heart tissue was collected.

The second Eucharistic miracle was in 2008, in Sokolka, Poland.  A consecrated host was accidentally dropped at Mass.  It was also placed in water and locked in a safe.

Days later, a nun found that the host had developed a red mark on it.  It was sent for analysis, and again they found human heart tissue. The damaged myocardial fibres indicated that that heart had suffered agony in the form of painful spasms, and again the tissue was from a live heart.

The third miracle was in Lanciano, Italy, in 750 AD.  As the priest consecrated the bread and wine at Mass, they literally turned into flesh and blood. That flesh and blood are still there today in a reliquary in the Church of St. Legontian.

In 1971, these relics were examined by scientists at the Arezzo Hospital and the University of Siena.  These specimens, over 1200 years old, were still fresh.  The investigators found heart tissue, as well as the rare blood type AB.  

Interestingly, the NASA scientists who tested the Shroud of Turin in 1978 also found blood type AB.

When Jesus says, ‘This is my body, this is my blood’, he’s not kidding.  He’s literally giving us his Sacred Heart.  He’s giving us himself.

St Thomas Aquinas taught that when we approach the Eucharist, four of our five senses fail us.  He said that what we receive at Communion looks, smells, feels and tastes like ordinary unleavened bread.  But clearly it’s not.

At that moment, he said, we can only trust one of our senses: our hearing.  That’s when we believe Jesus when he says, ‘this is my body, this is my blood’. 

In John chapter 6, Jesus tells us thirteen times that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  He also says ‘whoever eats me will draw life from me (and) … anyone who eats this bread will live forever’ (Jn.6:57-58).

Now, as Christians we don’t have to believe in miracles – not even when they’re officially recognised.  We’re free to make up our own minds.  But Jesus does want us to have faith.  That’s why he encourages us with these signs.

Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.  He’s right here, right now, offering us his love, his healing and his Real Presence. 

Jesus is always here for us when we come to Mass.


[ii] Ron Tesoriero & Lee Han, Unseen.  Published by Ron Tesoriero, Kincumber: 2013.

Year C – Trinity Sunday

On the Union of Love

(Prov.8:22-31; Rom.5:1-5; Jn.16:12-15)

Some people love a good mystery.  Pope Leo XIII once said that the greatest mystery of all is the Holy Trinity, for how can one God possibly be made up of three divine persons?

The only reason we know about the Trinity is because God told us about it himself.  The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘Trinity’, but its meaning is clearly there.  The Bible often refers to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – the three persons in one God.

At Pentecost, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments, and I’ll ask the Father, and he’ll give you another Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with you always’ (Jn.14:15).  

Jesus also told his apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt.28:19).

Jesus often spoke about his Father and the Spirit, but he didn’t say everything.  In today’s Gospel, he says he has much more to say, but it’s too much for his disciples. He then adds that the Spirit, when he comes, will guide them towards the truth.

And that’s just what happened.  Early on, the Holy Spirit guided the Church towards the doctrine of the Trinity, which is what we affirm every time we say the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed.  That’s where we say we ‘believe in one God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit …’   

Many people have tried to explain the Trinity. St. Patrick talked about the three leaves of the shamrock, with each leaf representing one of the three persons. But really, our ordinary human language and our limited experience make it impossible to precisely explain who God is. 

The Jesuit Fr Anthony de Mello said that explaining the Trinity is like describing the colour green to someone who’s been blind since birth.  God is always far greater and much more than anything we could ever think of.

But there is something we do know.  The thing that unites the three persons in one God is love. 

God is three persons permanently united in love. He wants us to join that union of love.

The Father and the Son love each other so completely that they are one. And the love between the Father and the Son is so strong that it’s a powerful force in itself – and that’s the Holy Spirit.

So, what does all this mean for us?

Well, firstly, we should remember St Paul’s words:  we are the Body of Christ. God became incarnate through Jesus Christ, and he continues to make himself incarnate through us, his disciples. We are now Jesus’ hands, feet and eyes.  It’s through you and me that God now delivers his love into the world.

Secondly, God gives us the model of the Trinity because he wants us to copy it in our own lives.  Just as the three persons in one God are permanently united in love, God wants us to experience that same perfect love in our relationships, in our marriages, in our families and in our communities.  He wants us all to be permanently united in perfect love.  And such divine love is never passive.  It can never be contained.  If we choose to live in perfect love, just like the Trinity, then our love will grow naturally to include others.  It will transform the world. 

That’s what God wants of us.

And finally, God the Father doesn’t want to leave us where we are.  We’ve all been created in his image, and he wants us to join him.  That’s why he sent us his Son and his Spirit.  They’re calling each of us to join them in that same perfect love – so that the divine three then expands to become four … five … six … seven …  That’s also what God wants.

We can’t do these things on our own. To succeed, we need the creativity of the Father, the loving heart of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They’re all available to each of us when we open our hearts to receive them.

So, whenever we make the sign of the Cross and whenever we pray, let’s remember that God is three persons permanently united in love. 

He wants us to join that union of love. 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

Year C – Pentecost Sunday

On the Gifts of the Spirit

[Acts 2:1-11; Gal.5:16-25; Jn.15:26-27; 16:12-15]

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, we also celebrate the Church’s birthday.  Happy Birthday!

Something we associate with birthdays is gifts, and happily Pentecost’s no exception.

After Jesus returns to his Father by ascending into heaven, the disciples go into hiding.  On Pentecost Sunday they’re huddled in the Upper Room, when suddenly a great noise like a mighty wind rushes through the house.  A tongue of fire rests on each disciple, and they’re all filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit they receive is the same powerful Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and in that instant the disciples’ lives are changed completely.  Instead of cowering in fear, they walk bravely into the streets of Jerusalem and start telling everyone the truth about Jesus.  And despite the differing languages, everyone in the crowd can understand.  That day some 3,000 people become Christians and the Church is born.

Now, the Holy Spirit’s work didn’t stop with Jesus and his Apostles.  Today the Holy Spirit continues to work throughout the world in many different ways, transforming the lives of many people (1Cor.12:4-11).  For each of us, our own personal Pentecost started with the Sacrament of Baptism, and this gift was strengthened through the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Through these two sacraments, the Holy Spirit gives us the same special graces he gave the Apostles.  At Baptism we receive the gifts of faith, hope and charity.  At Confirmation these graces are strengthened by the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and fear of the Lord (or wonder and awe).

These graces, these spiritual strengths, are exactly what the Apostles need to get going. They’re also exactly what we need if we’re to live our lives to the full.

St Thomas Aquinas described these spiritual gifts as being like the sails of a boat. Just as sails catch the wind and move the boat forward, so these gifts catch or receive the impulses that come from the Holy Spirit.  They drive us onward, helping us to love God and helping us to live as good disciples, doing what he wants us to do.

St Thomas also described these gifts as ‘perfections of man’, through which we become amenable ‘to the promptings of God’. 

The Spirit can only unleash his power if we allow him to change us from within.

But we’re only amenable to God’s promptings if we play our part.  If we’ve forgotten our gifts of the Spirit, if we’ve packed up those sails and put them away, our boat isn’t going anywhere, no matter how hard the Spirit’s wind blows.

Three years ago, Pope Francis said, ‘Man is like a traveller who, crossing the deserts of life, has a thirst for living water, gushing and fresh, capable of quenching his deep desire for light, love, beauty and peace.  He said this living water is the Holy Spirit, which Jesus pours into our hearts.

But only last week, Pope Francis commented that the Holy Spirit seems to be a ‘luxury prisoner’ in the hearts of many Christians.  He said that too often the Spirit is someone who’s welcomed to stay, but he’s not allowed to move us or push us forward.

Pope Francis added that the Holy Spirit is the one who moves the Church, who works in the Church and in our hearts.  The Spirit does everything, knows everything, reminds us what Jesus said and can explain all about Jesus. But too many Christians don’t understand the Spirit’s role.  Instead they’ve simply reduced the Christian life to a code of ‘morals and ethics’.

Pope Francis said that the faith is not just an ethical life: it’s an encounter with Jesus Christ.  It’s an invitation to a personal relationship with God himself, but to accept this invitation we must open up our hearts to the Holy Spirit.

‘This is what we must do’, he said. We must ‘think of the Spirit and talk to him.’

In 2008, in Sydney, Pope Benedict XVI described the Holy Spirit as the spirit of God’s love.  He can perform miracles.  But the Spirit can only unleash his power if we allow him to change us from within.

We need to allow the Spirit to work his magic in us, transforming us, just as he transformed those fishermen and tax collectors 2,000 years ago.

If we do allow the Holy Spirit to work his magic in us, we’ll then start reaping the fruits that St Paul spoke about in Galatians 5:22: ‘love, joy, peace, generosity, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’.

Year C – Ascension of Our Lord

On the Kindling of a Flame

(Acts.1:1-11; Heb.9:24-28, 10:19-23; Lk.24:46-53)

The Greek philosopher, Socrates, used to say that education isn’t the filling of a vessel; rather, it’s the kindling of a flame.

Ten years ago I was in Italy, travelling by train from Florence to Pisa.  I was at a crossroads in my life and took this opportunity to pray, asking Jesus, ‘Please tell me what you want me to do with my life.  Tell me, and I’ll do it.’

Over and over again I repeated those words, and suddenly, to my great surprise, I got an answer.  I heard Jesus say with firm voice, ‘I want you to learn’.

Those words completely changed my life.  When I returned home I enrolled in a theology degree and I applied to join the Permanent Diaconate.  Ever since then I’ve been learning all I can about Jesus and the Christian faith.  

I know from personal experience that the learning God wants me to do hasn’t just filled an empty vessel.  It’s actually lit a fire that’s still burning inside me.

Part of my learning included a course on preaching.  At one point I asked the lecturer, ‘If a congregation includes people of different ages, to whom should I pitch my preaching?’  His answer surprised me.  He said, ‘to a 14 year old’.  When I asked why, he said that’s because the average adult Catholic hasn’t grown much in faith since they were in middle high school. He said their understanding of the Church is limited to what they learnt up to the age of 14. Most haven’t bothered to learn any more since then.

What do you think?  Do you agree?

Pope St John Paul II used to worry that too many Catholics really don’t understand their own faith.  He encouraged everyone to do something every day to strengthen their faith – to read the Bible, to learn about the saints, to pray, to go to Mass.  The important thing, he said, is to keep learning and growing.

He practised what he preached.  Every day from 10 to 11pm, before going to bed, he read books or articles he’d set aside during the day.  Every Tuesday he invited 5 or 6 experts in various fields – theology, philosophy, sociology, politics, culture or science – to talk and have lunch with him. 

He made a point of understanding not only his own faith, but many other things as well, including physics and history.  He believed in lifelong learning. 

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus says farewell to his disciples.  He’s finished his work on earth and it’s time to return to his Father. He’s taught his disciples all they need to know, and now it’s up to them to continue his work.  He knows they can’t do it on their own, so he promises to send the Spirit to help them.

Becoming a Catholic is a lifetime process. It’s not a one-off event. It’s a continuous process of change.

Now, I wonder how much confidence Jesus had in his disciples, because earlier, in Luke 18:8, he asks the question, ‘when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?’  He must have worried about it, just as John Paul II did. 

Today, many people have given up learning about their faith. They think they know enough already.  But like everything in life, we only get out what we put in. 

In his book ‘Talent is Never Enough’ (2007), John Maxwell says ‘the greatest enemy of learning is knowing’.  What he means is that sometimes when we know a little bit, we think we know it all.  But the problem is that when we think we know it all, we usually prove that we don’t.

The American writer Flannery O’Connor (1925-64) used to say that becoming a Catholic is a lifetime process.  It’s not a one-off event.  It’s a continuous process of change in the way we see ourselves and the way we live our lives. It’s a never-ending process of conversion, and it relies on lifelong learning.

Of course, every learner needs a teacher.  St Therese of Lisieux called Jesus the Teacher of teachers.  She said, ‘… though I’ve never heard him speak, I know he’s within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights … break in upon me’.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats agreed with Socrates.  He said ‘education isn’t just the filling of a pail, it’s the lighting of a fire’. 

Henry Ford said that learning keeps you young.

So, let’s honour our families, ourselves and Jesus himself by becoming the best people we possibly can be.

Both Jesus, and our families, would be proud to know that we’re lifelong learners, filled with fire and passion for the truth, and living life to the full.

It’s time to start learning what we really need to learn.