And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world. Amen. [Matt 28:20]
Before Jesus ascended to the Father and no longer was visibly and tangibly present in the world, He promised his disciples that while he would no longer be with them in the same way that He had been in the world for 33 years, nonetheless He would in fact be with them until the end of the world in new and even more wonderful ways. At the last supper He promised them “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” [John 14:18] And indeed, Jesus does remain in this world for us, even after he has ascended to the Father, just as Jesus had never ceased to be in Heaven with the Father all the while that he was present on this earth. Jesus would not only remain with his people, but, as he also promised, He would more wonderfully remain in them. For, as He clearly taught us:“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. [John 14:20]
Thus, today Jesus lives not simply with us, that is, among us, as he did two thousand years ago in Israel, but now He also lives in us through Sanctifying Grace and the gifts of His Spirit. Whoever is in the state of Grace, then, has Jesus, indeed has the whole Trinity living in his soul. For in whomever the Spirit dwells, there also dwells the Son of God; and whoever possesses the Son also possesses the Father Who sends Him. Thus, by the gift of His Spirt and the Spirit’s gifts of Grace, the Lord Jesus fulfills his promise never to leave us orphans.
Now, in today’s celebration of Corpus Christi, we celebrate a different way in which Jesus fulfills his promise not to leave us orphans. He remains with us always and in us periodically until the end of the world. Obviously, Jesus is no longer present “in the world” in the same way that He was present during those 33 years of his earthly life. Nonetheless, He now remains in the world until the end of time, and in an even more wonderful and mysterious way in the Holy Eucharist.
First, He is present with us, in our midst, in the fulness of His humanity and divinity as the Eucharistic subject of our worship and adoration. Secondly, Jesus is present in us, in His full humanity and divinity, at least for a short time whenever we receive Him in Communion. Thus, the Eucharist is Jesus’ dramatically new mode of presence “in the world,” just as by the gift of His Spirit Jesus becomes present “in power” in the human soul. .
Today, some theologians say – mistakenly in my opinion – that Jesus is no longer historically present, which can imply that Jesus is no longer a part of man’s history as such, no longer an actor within our history. Again, it is obviously true that Jesus is no longer present in history in the way that we are, that is, subject to the conditions of time and space and other temporal limitations. But it is simply not true that Jesus is no longer a vital part of human history and no longer a true actor within human history.
It is precisely this kind of misunderstanding of the Gospel that has produced a world that is becoming ever more totally secularized and devoid of any sacred dimension. The truth is that Jesus always remains present in the world and in human history, and He is always truly with us in our earthly pilgrimage. And He is with us today not in a less wonderful way than He was for 33 years long ago, but He is present now in a far more wonderful and salutary way which we can barely understand.
Indeed, by His Eucharistic presence, Jesus is now present, in the fullness of his humanity and divinity in the whole world, present everywhere the Church is present and everywhere the Gospel is preached and everywhere the sacraments are administered and the Eucharist is celebrated. For Jesus is now present in the world in His new body, in His mystical body, which is the Church that He gave birth to and wedded to Himself while on the Cross. And He is present in the Church most fully and efficaciously precisely in and through the Holy Eucharist, by means of which He builds up His Mystical body. Just as we build up our physical body with earthly food, so Jesus uses the heavenly food which is Himself, the Bread of Angels and the spiritual Manna, to build up His Mystical Body. For this supernatural food truly makes us one flesh with Him Who is both Lord and God and Bridegroom of the whole Church.
The Holy Eucharist, then, is truly the heart of the new creation, and Jesus is Himself the center of human history [Gaudium at Spes], for He is truly present, body and soul, blood and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. In the celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus draws the elements of creation, both the material world – bread and wine – and his members into a deep communion in Himself, and thus into a mysterious intimate relationship with the whole Trinity. In this great mystery, we see the anticipation of the day when the whole of creation will be taken up into a new existence.
In the Eucharist, then, we see in a new way the truth that Jesus, the God-man, is indeed the way that creation and the saints are finally to be transformed by the Spirit and thus reach their final destiny. In this sense, the Eucharist is not just another sacrament but the very focal point of the final plan of God for His creation. For the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not just any form of His presence, but the prophetic fulness of Christ as the way to Eternal Life for man, and with man, for all of creation.
The Church testifies by its Eucharistic faith and devotion to this continuing and saving presence of Jesus within creation and human history, and especially His presence within man. The Eucharist is given to his members as our food for the journey to Paradise. It is the nourishment that enables us to make the journey through the perils of this world, through all the challenges of human history to our true home in God, where Jesus has prepared a place for those who are united with Him. In the Eucharist, we become one with Jesus in way that will only become fully comprehended and fully realized and permanent in heaven.
But this glorious destiny and our way to reach is confirmed by the fact the Eucharist is not a mere “symbol” of his love and spiritual presence in our world, but his continuing, active human presence in human history, in the fullness of his humanity and divinity, all of this hidden yet nonetheless truly present in the Holy Eucharist. Because He is truly present in the Eucharist to be our food and the very source of new life, we can and must honor him in this holiest of sacraments, not only when we receive Him at Mass, but wherever the Eucharist is present, for in the Eucharist Jesus is truly remaining with us and for us.
To sum up, then, Corpus Christi celebrates the full mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the truth that by God’s sacramental power basic elements and signs of His creation, bread and wine, are transformed, trans-substantiated, into the living substance of the Lord of History. In this sublime mystery, material creation anticipates its ultimate destiny as the humble, material elements of bread and wine become the flesh and blood of their incarnate Creator. In this act of God, man also embraces his ultimate destiny in an anticipatory way, as he becomes one flesh and one in a communion of love and life with his Creator and Redeemer. In the Eucharist, received and adored, all worship achieves its perfection as the Lord of creation and history is worshiped as Lord, and He is offered to the Father as the singular reality who contains the whole of creation itself.
In heaven, the purpose of the Eucharist itself will be fulfilled as God becomes all in all, but here on earth this sacrament remains as our only way to that destiny, because in it and through it Jesus remains with us always till the end of time, as the way that leads to Himself and thus to the Trinity, as the truth and the life. This is our faith. And this Eucharistic mystery is the ultimate basis and source of our hope. This final gift of Jesus is what moves us and enables us to love God and all of God’s creatures, and above all every human person, as we have been loved by Him, Who truly loved us to the end in His passion, and Who never leaves us orphans today.