Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

The Body of Christ and the heart of Jesus

June 17, 2012

Celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi on June 10 and, five days later, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus would not make sense if we had not first celebrated the great feast of Easter. If Christ is not risen, he cannot be present everywhere in his own body; the Holy Eucharist would then remain only a psychological memorial. Instead, Christ’s real presence under the forms of consecrated bread and wine draws us into the joy of his promise: “I will be with you always” (Mt 28:20).

The feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord this year is also the first day of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, being held in Dublin, Ireland. Bishop Joseph Perry and Father Jim O’Brien are leading a group of Chicago Catholics to represent our archdiocese at the congress from the 10th to the 17th of June. I promised them that we would keep them and the church in Ireland in our prayers during the celebration of Mass this week.

The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, celebrated this year on June 15, is rooted historically in the private revelations granted to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in France between 1673 and 1675. It is rooted biblically in the mystery of God’s infinite mercy for sinners. The feast reminds us that the risen body of Christ is a truly human body, bearing the wounds of Jesus’ suffering for the salvation of the world. The heart of Christ, opened by the thrust of a lance after his death on the cross, is the font of God’s mercy. In recent years, the feast of the Sacred Heart has been marked by prayers for the sanctification of priests, who make present on the altar the Body and Blood of Christ and whose personal lives should be marked by and give witness to Christ’s self-sacrificing love. Priests are not called to be religious functionaries but to be saints of God.

Largely because of Polish Catholics in the archdiocese, the custom of public procession with the Blessed Sacrament is being restored to Catholic life here. Likewise the Pope John Paul II Eucharistic Adoration Society, moderated by Bishop Joseph Perry, oversees the practice of eucharistic adoration in very many of our parishes. These customs are great blessings and the source of great grace for all of us.

In his homily for the feast of Corpus Christi this year, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that, after Vatican Council II “it was very important to recognize the centrality of the (Eucharistic) celebration, in which the Lord convokes his people, gathers them around the twofold table of the Word and the Bread of Life, nourishes them and unites them to himself in the offering of the Sacrifice.” The pope went on to say that the importance placed on the celebration of the Eucharist should not be to the detriment of adoration, “an act of faith and prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus, really present in the Sacrament of the altar … Concentrating the whole relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus only at the moment of Holy Mass risks removing his presence from the rest of time and existential space. And thus, perceived less is the sense of the constant presence of Jesus in our midst and with us, a concrete, close presence among our homes, as ‘beating Heart’ of the city, of the country, of the territory with its various expressions and activities. The Sacrament of the Charity of Christ must permeate the whole of daily life.”

Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in silence marked by contemplation prepares us to celebrate the Eucharist well and with greater affectivity. Genuflecting before the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved deepens our faith in Christ’s real presence among his people. When religious rituals disappear, life becomes barren and caught up in activities that seal the soul against God’s presence and still the heart to the cry of the poor.

Our current economic problems and political impasses bear devastating witness to a society obsessed with controlling every aspect of experience and life. This drive is deadly and destroys trust, which is betrayed in order to advance one’s own projects. Belief in Christ’s presence and in God’s providence, by contrast, frees people to trust that they can take care of those whom God has given them to love without fear of losing their deepest selves. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus places us within the safety of God’s infinite love and gives us courage to risk our own lives for the salvation of others. Faith makes us free.

As everyone knows, freedom to express our faith through the public ministries of the church is now outlawed. Contesting the current HHS mandate in which the government usurps the right to determine which of our ministries are truly “religious” and which are not is a series of lawsuits being brought by dioceses and universities and other Catholic organizations. That it is necessary is clear in a declaration from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, quoted in many of the plaintiffs’ legal briefs, that “We are at war.” So far as I know, this is the first time that a U.S. government official has declared war on citizens of the United States who do not agree with government policy. The public conversation continues to be manipulated by the government and many in the media, hiding what is at stake in the mandate to strip religious institutions of their identity so that they can be forced to act against their religious beliefs.

The Eucharist is food for the journey. When our journey is arduous and over rocky terrain, when we are at war physically in Afghanistan and elsewhere and, at home, in courts of law and the theatre of public opinion, the Eucharist sustains us and keeps us united in Christ. In the Mass, we exchange a sign of peace just before coming to receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. As we signify peace to those physically near us at Mass, we should keep in mind and in prayer those who are not, especially those who consider themselves at war with us now. Then the Eucharist is truly a sign of the unity that Christ wills for all his people and of the love of his Sacred Heart for all men and women who seek his mercy.