Rorate Caeli

Corpus Christi: When the Train Stopped for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament - A Sermon by Fr. Richard Cipolla

 by Fr. Richard Cipolla

I celebrated the great feast of Corpus Christi last Thursday with the priests and people of the parish of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  At the end of the Solemn Mass there weas the customary procession with the Blessed Sacrament.  As we processed outdoors around the church, a wonderful thing happened. This church is literally next to the railroad tracks that serve both Amtrak and Metro North.  The roar of trains is heard during Mass. As the procession turned the bend and came up the street facing the tracks, directly before us was a Metro North train that had stopped on the tracks.  It remained stopped for about two minutes as we approached. When we turned the corner, the train went on to its destination.  This could have been a mere coincidence, but I knew that whoever was running that train saw,  and then  knew that he had to stop.

What flashed through my mind was when many years ago now  the procession in Florence as the Cardinal processed out of the great doors of Il Duomo and began to carry the Sacred Host through the streets of Florence and how the buses stopped, how the tourists stopped, how everything seemed to stop, some knelt on the pavement as the eternal body of God in the flesh was carried through these old and increasingly secular streets;  the streets of Orvieto covered with flowers, but not only flowers, but flowers carefully arranged to form Christian symbols, carpets of flowers throughout the streets, tapestries, banners, the  best bed coverings, displayed from the upper stories of the houses. But then I remembered  the Corpus Christi procession a few years ago in Stamford, walking by a local and popular bar, the patrons coming outside to look to see what was going on, standing there, looking, gazing, some even with bottles of beer in their hand, wondering what this was all about, this walking around with the Host in the golden monstrance, what could all of this mean. Not a clue.

What does all of this mean, this feast of Corpus Christ, the feast of the body of Christ?  

God and man have become one.  There is the root of this feast, the root of the feast is Christmas, or rather what Christmas celebrates.   The astounding declaration of the fact that God became flesh, that the infinite became finite, the purely spiritual became stuff, matter, earthiness, bodyness, that is circumscribed by time and space.  But Corpus Christi goes back to creation itself, for it is a celebration of the fact of creation as an act of the love of God, of the fact of matter, of the fact of matter that is the basis of life but is transcended by life.  It is the celebration of the relationship of matter and life, it is what saves mere science from itself, --oh. how science needs this wonderful Catholic feast to put things in the proper perspective!--for Corpus Christi transforms the quasi objectivity of modern science into a celebration of creation: far from denying the reality of quarks and leptons and orbitals and DNA and RNA and neurons and development, growth and change—the Catholic faith celebrates all of this, affirms all of this, and with the smile of a Bavarian oompah band and a shower of rose petals all going before what appears to be a piece of white bread in a golden sunburst, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, food, wine, family, friendship:  they all meet here, they all concentrate here, they all rest here, here where heaven reaches down to earth, here where the perfect Sacrifice of God is offered and received by God, here where entropy is confounded, where chaos is thwarted, where life is given and eaten, here where the words of the Logos in the flesh: hoc est enim corpus meum reveal what matter is destined for, where words become what they are supposed to be, not obstacles or veils or lies or prideful displays, but the vehicle to allow the healing and life-giving power of God—tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea—to continue what was begun in the womb of Mary:  the freeing of the creation from its fallen state, its bondage of mere thingness, to become through grace the vehicle, the support, the substratum, the accidents, of the very reality of God.  But more importantly for man who is the apex, the point of God’s creation: to free him from sin, that is from all that keeps him as mere matter, mere stuff destined to death and dust, and to allow him to fulfill his true destiny to partake of the divinity of God.  The patristic dictum,  God became man in order that man might become God. is indeed shocking, and despite a need to explain what this means, this is really what this feast is all about, and all we can do is what we must do and what we are doing:  worship with our hearts, our minds, our bodies this God who in the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ shows us the reality of the transformative power of the love of God in Jesus Christ. And that is what is always comes down to and it must: the reality of God’s love for us, that love that is our only and sure hope.