Sunday, June 2, 2013

Corpus Christi

On Friday I read a report that, 
due to a combination
of a mismanaged national economy
and externally imposed import restrictions,
the Catholic Church in Venezuela
is facing a shortage of bread and wine 
for the celebration of Mass
(the nation is also facing a toilet paper shortage,
but that’s another matter).
It reminded me of how much what we do 
within the walls of the church
is connected to the world outside the Church,
the network of economic and political relations 
that shape our lives.
This shortage of bread and wine in Venezuela
is an example of what people sometimes refer to 
as the “law of scarcity.”
The basic idea is that the less of something there is
the more its value increases:
if supply goes down and demand remains steady,
value – or at least prices – go up.
The presumptions of the law of scarcity
is so woven into the fabric of our daily lives
that they come to seem unquestionable to us:
of course something that is rare
is more valuable than something that is abundant;
of course we are in competition, 
even conflict, 
with each other
for these valuable, limited goods.
It seems unquestionable.

In our reading today from Luke’s Gospel, however,
we are invited to question this law of scarcity.
The story of the feeding of the multitudes begins in scarcity
but, rather than ending in conflict 
and competition for those scarce goods,
it ends in an abundant feast for all who are there:
“they all ate and were satisfied.”
In fact, more was left over than they began with.

In addition to being a sign of the divine power incarnate in Jesus,
this story of the feeding of the multitudes tells us something
about the kingdom of God that Jesus comes to proclaim.
The economy of this kingdom
does not run according to the law of scarcity
but according to a law of abundance:
God provides us with more than enough
of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace.
And these things do not become any less valuable
on account of being supplied in abundance
or any less abundant 
on account of being shared among many people.
St. Augustine noted that the citizens of earthly kingdoms
fight with each other for things that are in short supply:
glory, power, wealth, honor.
But in the case of divine goodness:
“Anyone who refuses to share this possession cannot have it;
and one who is most willing to let others share it in love
will have the greatest abundance” (Civ. Dei 15.5).

We should reflect on this story of scarcity and abundance
in the context of our celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi.
And as in today’s Gospel reading,
bread will be taken, 
and blessed, 
and broken, 
and shared.
We will receive Christ’s body and blood, 
his soul and divinity,
under the sacramental signs 
of bread and wine;
we will feed upon him spiritually
and, as in today’s Gospel, 
we will be satisfied.
Indeed, not only will we be satisfied,
but the grace that is bestowed on us
is so abundant that there will be
twelve baskets left over: grace upon grace,
which we will take with us into a world
that is starving for both material food 
and the food of God’s mercy.

While the bread and wine shortages in Venezuela show
that the Church is not removed 
from the economic forces at work in the world,
in the end the Eucharist is not ruled by the law of scarcity.
The value of the Eucharist is determined
not by what market forces do 
to the price of bread and wine
but by what the Holy Spirit does with them:
transforming them into 
the body and blood of God incarnate,
the food of immortality, 
the cup of eternal salvation.
And the grace we receive in this sacrament
only increases as we leave this building
to share the love that we have received with others.

On this our feast of Corpus Christ,
it is right and just that we reflect 
on the great gift of the body and blood of Christ
through with which we as a community 
have been abundantly blessed
for over a century and a quarter.
It is right and just to give thanks 
for the thousands of Masses
that have been celebrated on our altars:
the bread of life that has been shared,
the hungry souls that have been satisfied.
It is right and just that we pause to adore 
the God who bestows on us a gift so great 
and in such abundance.
And it is right and just that we leave here
to share with others 
the goodness that has filled our hearts.