Rorate Caeli

Fr. Cipolla's Sermon for Corpus Christi


And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6)

What indeed is the feast of Corpus Christi about?  The Body of Christ. In so many ways this feast is the summation of all the feasts of the year:  Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity.  For this is the feast of the abiding reality, the abiding presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in his Church.  Corpus Christi.  It makes all things real. For Christ is not some mythical figure who came down from Mount Olympus to do his magic and then went away never to be seen again. This Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father with his humanity, his humanity and your humanity and my humanity, whose glorified Body is in heaven, this Jesus Christ dwells among us truly and bodily as Corpus Christi, the Holy Eucharist, in which and by which he gives himself to us more deeply and more really than any of us can give ourselves to each other, no matter how much we love the other person.

The feast of Corpus Christi. So much to ponder on this day, when we look around us at the state of the world. This feast should give us a sense of urgency to bring the Word of Christ, the truth of Christ, the Body of Christ, to a world that seems hell bent in the triumph of egoism and self-satisfaction, a world that tries to make things real by the exertion of power, by the scourge of war, by pretending that God does not exist.  And so little time, who knows how much time, for the reform of the Bride of Christ, the bride that is the Body of Christ, the reform that must demand of bishops, priests, deacons and religious that they turn from the world to the following of Christ, a deliberate renunciation of the siren comfort of the world and to an embracing of the Cross of Christ, a taking on of the imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ, so that our bishops renounce once and for all the model of a bishop as the CEO of a multi-national corporation, and instead take on the sacrificial role of the pastor of the flock who willingly dies for his sheep.  So that our priests renounce the model of the "emcee" who makes everyone feel good and tries to make everyone happy and instead for the priest to embrace the way of the Cross, which is to teach their flock the truth in season and out of season and to lead their people in true worship, which is worship in Spirit and in Truth. This reform must demand of our Religious that they radically renounce the world, so they can be for us and for the whole world the pointer, the sign, of that heavenly kingdom that has no end.  This reform must demand of the laity that they resist the temptation to pigeonhole their Catholic faith so that it has no impact on their real lives and the life of their family, and instead bring the joy of the Catholic faith to the whole world that surrounds them every day, to resist the lure of pseudo-clericalism and instead do their part to rebuild Catholic culture in the world.

But the fact that we celebrate this feast today and do so with great solemnity and joy must give us real hope that the reality of Corpus Christi will prevail and conquer and enlighten.  For what we do today is the injection of Catholic culture into the world.  The phrase, Catholic culture, can bring images of the Middle Ages, or of some apart-from-the-world Amish version of Catholicism.  But this is not Catholic culture. For Catholic culture is the culture based on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Catholic culture is the fruit and the life of a world into which the infinite God of truth, goodness and beauty became finite, one of us, in the tabernacle of the womb of Mary.

That is what we do today.  We not only affirm our own faith in the saving presence of Christ in the world focused in the Eucharist.  We also bring Christ to the world, and we bring Christ who is truth, goodness and beauty into a world that is ignorant of what truth, goodness and beauty mean.  This is the affirmation of a Catholic culture that is not a ghetto, which is never drawn in on itself, for Catholic culture is the culture of Life.  This culture is the affirmation of wintergreen and new mown hay and the steam of chicken soup. This is the affirmation of chant, of Palestrina, of Bach and Mozart. This is the affirmation of luminous icons, of Fra Angelico, of Michelangelo, of Bernini, of San Vitale, of Chartres, of St. Peter’s.  This is the affirmation of the tender velvet of veal scallopine, the dancing on the tongue of a fine Brunello di Montalcino, the deepness of a mousse de chocolat. But this is also the affirmation of homemade bread dipped into homemade wine, of tabouli, of sauerkraut and pirogi, of fried baccalà on Christmas Eve, of the hot dog with yellow mustard at the family picnic.  This is the affirmation of the sitting out on the stoop on a warm summer’s night with the sounds of chatter and laughter, of the First Communion dress that somehow grows into the prom dress and into the wedding dress.  This is the affirmation of wrinkled hands and of lined faces, the affirmation of the extraordinary beauty of ordinary life.

And it is this we do and affirm today in the Corpus Christi procession. It is we who bring Christ to the world. It is we who accompany Him in the beauty of music and of vestments and of incense. It is we who bring the beauty of Christ to this city on its sidewalks.  We bring Him to people who stare and have no idea of what is going on but cannot fail to be touched.  And we are all blessed by the holy Body of Christ in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the end of this Mass in this church.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Sequence for this feast: quantum potes, quantum audes—dare to do as much as you can in giving Him praise. And what we dare to do today is to worship the living Christ, to rejoice in the beauty of God, and to bring that beauty into the world.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla