Blog & Pastor Letters

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

06-11-2023Weekly ReflectionRev. Ryan Muldoon

On December 4, 1912, shortly after four o’clock in the morning, a fire broke out in the basement of St. Philip Neri Church in the Bronx, New York. In very little time, the entire church building was engulfed in flames. Thankfully, a passerby noticed what was happening and summoned the priests and the fire department. The two parish priests — Fr. Daniel Burke and Fr. Joseph Congedo — arrived on the scene, and one can only imagine what it was like for them to see their beloved church engulfed in flames.

What happened next, on a purely rational level, doesn’t make much sense: the two priests rushed into the burning church. Why would someone do that? Why on earth would these two priests dare to enter where even firefighters were reluctant to go? We come to realize that it was not what these priests risked their lives to save, but who. There was someone inside whom they loved. A New York Times article published the following day tells the story: “Groping through the smoke, [the two priests] made their way to the altar and emerged a few moments later bearing the Host.” It was not what was inside, but who, and that “who” was Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

In an age where everything seems upside down, where it can seem like there is more evil in the world than good, people may ask, “Where is God?” We can rightly point to the many ways that God comes to us: within each one of us, in his Word in Sacred Scripture, in the beauty of the world that he has created, and in so many other ways. In their recent document, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, the U.S. Bishops reflect, “The Lord accompanies us in many ways, but none as profound as when we encounter him in the Eucharist. On our journey toward eternal life, Christ nourishes us with his very self.” Christ was present in the tabernacle of that burning St. Philip Neri Church in the Bronx. Christ is present in the tabernacles of big and grand churches that everyone has heard of, like St. Peter’s Basilica. Christ is present in the tabernacles of tiny mission chapels in places that almost no one has heard of. Christ is present in the tabernacles of our parish Churches and on the altar each and every time Mass is celebrated.

So where is God? He is in our midst; we might say that he is in humble disguise. “Your God is there, in what looks like bread and wine?” someone might ask. “Yes,” we would respond, because Jesus wanted to come to us in a way that we could understand, in a way we were familiar with, in a way we could receive. The Eucharist is not a what; it is a who. It is Jesus who loves us, and he asks only that we would love Him in return. When you love someone, you would run into a burning building to save that person, like those priests in 1912. When you love someone, you would rearrange your schedule to spend time with them, like we Catholics do on Sundays. When you love someone, you would go out of your way to show in little ways that you care, like we Catholics do by genuflecting toward the tabernacle and by bowing before receiving Communion. When you love someone, you cannot stay apart. As we thank Jesus for coming to us in his Body and Blood at every Mass, how could we possibly stay away?

On this Corpus Christi Sunday, we should remember that the Eucharist comes to us through the priesthood. If these years of Eucharistic Revival in the United States are to bear fruit, we must accompany our Eucharistic devotion with prayers for an increase in priestly vocations in this country and around the world. No priest? No Eucharist. Where do priests come from? (Unfortunately, they do not grow on trees.) Priests come from families. In our local Catholic communities, especially in our parishes, we need to quit thinking that priests come from other people’s families. We are destined to continue to have a “vocations crisis” until we begin to realize that priests can come from our families, from our parishes, from among our sons, grandsons, relatives, and friends.

May God give us priests from our families so that the Eucharist may always and everywhere be celebrated, so that we don’t have to look far to say, “There on that altar, there in that tabernacle — there is God.” You would not run into a burning building for something, but you would for someone, to save someone you love. Fr. Burke and Fr. Congedo ran into St. Philip Neri Church in spite of the flames because they themselves were interiorly on fire with a love for Jesus in the Eucharist. May God send us good and holy priests to bring us the Eucharist, and may the Eucharist that we celebrate and receive this day set each of us on fire with a love for Christ, whom we bring in his Eucharistic Body into the streets of our towns and cities, that he may be always and everywhere praised, adored, and loved.

Rev. Ryan Muldoon