“How can I close the house of God?”

by Southeast Alaska Catholic newspaper
? Bishop Kenny: A life lived for others
Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus

This week I have been meditating on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ in the light of the death on June 3rd, 2007 of Fr. Ragheed Aziz Gazzi and his companions in Mosul, Iraq.

Fr.Ragheed was a 35-year old Chaldean Catholic priest who was stopped by unknown gunmen when leaving the Mass, and shot to death with the three subdeacons who were accompanying him.

The wife of one of the subdeacons (the only survivor) has testified that the one of the gunman shouted at Fr.Ragheed, “I told you to close the church, why didn’t you do it? Why are you still here?” (He had earlier been threatened with death unless he closed his church immediately and stopped celebrating Mass.)

The subdeacon’s wife reported that Fr.Ragheed simply asked them, “How can I close the house of God?”

In the weeks before his death, Fr.Ragheed had spoken of, “the great value of Sunday, the day that we meet the Risen Lord, the day of unity and of love between His community, the day of support and help.”

He was quoted as saying: “Without Sunday, without the Eucharist the Christians in Iraq cannot survive.”

On this solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, I can’t help but recall the heroic witness unto death of Fr. Ragheed and his companions, because his words and example are a vivid reminder to us that without Sunday, without the eucharist, we cannot survive as disciples of Jesus.

We remember on this day especially, that as members of Christ’s Body we cannot survive without the Eucharist because every Sunday we encounter the Risen Lord in the precious and indispensible gifts of his Body and Blood.

Every Sunday gathered at this altar, we remember that the divine love, forgiveness and reconciliation, made present under the humble signs of bread and wine are more powerful than hatred and enmity.

Every Sunday gathered at this altar, we remember in the breaking of the bread that the mercy and peace of Christ has overcome the mercilessness and violence of this world.

Every Sunday we remember in the sacrifice offered on this altar, how by his sacrificial death on the Cross and glorious resurrection, the Lord has overcome the power of sin and death forever.

In the first reading we recall how at the foot of Mt. Sinai Moses spoke to the Israelites of all the words and ordinances of the Lord. The people replied, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.”

Moses then sealed the eternal covenant between God and the Israel by sprinkling the altar and the people with the blood of a young bull sacrificed as a peace offering to the Lord.

Each Sunday we gather like the Israelites to hear “ the words and ordinances of the Lord”.  Each time we respond “Thanks be to God” and “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” at the conclusion of the readings and the gospel, we are saying, as God’s people: “We will do everything that the Lord has told us”, and the Father ratifies the new covenant that he has made with his holy people, with each one of us, not with the blood of calves and goats but with the blood of his beloved Son, poured out to make peace between God and sinful humanity.

We cannot survive as the Body of Christ without the Eucharist because each time we receive the gift of his Body and Blood, we receive the grace and the strength and the fortitude to “do everything that the Lord has told us.”

But as members of Christ’s Body, incorporated completely into the mystery of his death and resurrection, we are called not only “to do everything that the Lord tells us”, to turn away from sin and to act virtuously, we are called to go beyond that, to imitate the example of Jesus so as to become more and more like him.

In our gospel today, we heard again the words we hear each time we celebrate the Eucharist. On the night before Jesus was betrayed and put to death, the Lord gave his disciples the bread which was his body broken for them, saying, “Take it; this is my body”.  He took the cup of wine, his blood poured out for them, and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Each time we gather at this altar, we hear those familiar yet mysterious words of Jesus, that conclude with this command: “Do this, in memory of me.” With these words, Jesus not only commands us to gather in his memory to celebrate the Eucharist, he gently commands us, invites us, to ourselves become a living sacrifice, in imitation of his total self-giving.

The  Eucharist is a reminder that a life lived, not for ourselves alone but for others, is the saving participation in the divine life of the Trinity, revealed to us in Jesus, which is eternal life.

In the gift of his Body and Blood, Jesus reveals to us his life freely given to the Father; given to his disciples; given to the poor and needy; a life given even to the enemies who took his life so cruelly.

As Christians we cannot survive without the Eucharist because the Eucharist teaches us how to give ourselves completely like Jesus.

At Sinai, God’s people promised to do “everything that the Lord has told us.” At this table, Jesus commands us to gather around the altar of his Body and Blood and to
imitate his self-giving, to do what Jesus did.

It is this self-giving that Jesus commands us to do in remembrance of him. Jesus commands us to remember him as one who was consumed by love.  Jesus commands us to remember his sacrifice by becoming ourselves a living sacrifice for the life of the world in the choices and decisions we make each day.

We cannot survive as Christians without the Eucharist because each time we eat his Body and drink his Blood we see and hear and touch and taste what it means to live like Jesus, to be Jesus, in this world.

In this world in which we are constantly enjoined to consume; to acquire and accumulate; to take for ourselves whatever we desire; the Eucharist invites us to share everything we have been given. Not to be consumers but to be consumed.

We cannot survive as Christians without the Eucharist because, nourished by his Body and Blood, we become the food and drink that the Lord offers for a world
which hungers and thirsts for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, forgiveness and love.

This world cannot survive without Christians who each day are willing to be the Lord’s Body and Blood broken and poured out for the life of the world.

“Christians,” St. Augustine said about the Lord’s Body and Blood, ”say ‘Amen’ to what you are: be what you receive.”

Brothers and sisters, on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us say ‘Amen’ to the bread of life and the cup of salvation together with the angels and the saints who praise God at the heavenly altar; let us say ‘Amen’ with Fr. Ragheed and his companions and all of the martyrs who stand invisibly beside us at the table of sacrifice; and let us say ‘Amen’, with the whole Church gathered this day to worship and adore Jesus in the precious and lifegiving mysteries of his Body
and Blood.