Ampleforth Abbey

25 February 2018

Corpus Christi 2013

Last Supper

Homily preached by Abbot Cuthbert Madden OSB at the Conventual Mass on the Solemnity of Corpus Christ, 2nd June 2013.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we have just listened to the Gospel of the feeding of the five thousand as it is recounted for us in St Luke.  I think that it is interesting to note here the commands that Jesus gives to his disciples.  Firstly he tells his disciples to give the crowds something to eat – and this after the disciples have asked him to send the crowds away because they are gathered in a lonely place.  The disciples tell the Lord that they have only five loaves and two fish – and Jesus then gives them two further instructions: “get them to sit down in parties of about fifty” and then we note that Jesus hands the blessed food to the disciples for them to distribute this among the crowd.

As I look at this story I rather get the feeling that Jesus is putting his disciples to the test: have they understood his teaching? Will they be able to put the teaching into practice?  Almost immediately we see the disciples making what seems to be a reasonable excuse: we do not have what we need to feed the crowd, look – we have only got five loaves and two fish.  In the second chapter of his Rule St Benedict tells his abbot that “he may not plead lack of resources as an excuse” when he is caring for his brethren, but rather “he is to remember what is written: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given you as well (Matt 6:33), and again, Those who fear him lack nothing (Ps 33[34]:10)” (RB 2.35-36).  It is the same general theme: the Lord always gives his disciples what they need for a given situation.  In the Gospel he says in effect, “look, here are a number of people seeking God: give them what they need”.  But the disciples have not understood the teaching of the Lord and so Jesus proceeds to teach them in a mighty sign of power.  Tell the people to sit down: give to them that which I now give you.

As we examine this sign of power we are well aware that the actions of the Lord described by Luke run in parallel with the actions of the Lord recalled by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.  As they reflected on this feeding miracle after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles could see that what Jesus was giving the crowds was not just bread and fish but his body and his blood: his very self; his life.

These words of Jesus addressed to his apostles so long ago are this morning addressed to you and to me.  We are told to give the people something to eat.  We are told to put the people at their ease, to make them sit down and relax despite their hunger and their thirst.  We are told, “give to the crowds what I have given you”.  So what has the Lord given to us?  In Baptism he bestowed his friendship upon us: intimacy with the Son of God.  As members of his Body, the Church, he has given us his Word to instruct us, to draw us into a deeper relationship with him, to nourish our minds and hearts, to transform the way in which we live our lives.  As members of his Body he has given us his flesh and blood in the Eucharist.  This is our food and drink for our journey through life.  This is the food which draws us into union with Christ and expresses the union between us which he has created by his own power and which we express in a shared faith. 

As we look out to our world today it sometimes seems that the world has all the answers.  We are all too well aware that we are, like Peter, sinful men and women.  We find ourselves tongue-tied and at a loss as to what we should do.  “Do not be afraid”, says the Lord, “you are my Body and My Blood; you are my life active in this world, you are my Church.  Do what I did.  Speak the words that I spoke.  The world has always seemed to have all the answers but scratch through the surface and you will find hungry men and women who long to know God.  Make them welcome; draw them into my presence.  Pray with them, as I taught you to pray.  Speak my words to them and try to explain what they mean.  When they are ready, welcome them into the fellowship of my Body and feed them with my body and my blood.  Then send them in my name to share the Good News that they have received”. 

Today the Lord sends us into our world to hand over the Good News of Salvation.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.