This is the last Sunday before we begin Lent. As you know, this Wednesday coming is Ash Wednesday. So, this is also the final Sunday of our close look at the Mass. My apologies to those who are coming in at the end. Over the last few weeks, we have looked at how we gather; how we hear the readings; how we respond to the Good News; the descending and ascending movements of the Word of God in the Eucharistic prayer. And today, ironically, we come to the final part of the Mass: the reception of Communion and the dismissal.
In one sense, this part of the Mass defies description. Jesus does not say, Take and understand. He says, take and eat. He does not command us to wait around. He commands us to go and bear fruit. We eat and we go. We consume the Body of Christ to become the Body of Christ, to live and die like the Body of Christ, for God and for our brothers and sisters.
Yes, when we say Amen to the Body of Christ, we are saying Amen to everything the Church teaches. But that is obvious. Christ gives himself and his life to the Church. Therefore, it is she alone who can say where he is and how he works. Yes, if we reject the Church’s teaching or are in serious sin, we should not receive communion. But that is just because we are not really saying Amen. But all of this falls so far short of what it means to receive communion that to focus on these aspects is like going to Portsea Back Beach and spending your whole time looking at your phone. It is to miss the glory and grandeur that should be our focus.
With that in mind, I would just like to tell a story that some of you may have heard. It is about Chiara Lubich who founded the Focolare Movement in Italy during the Second World War. During the War, as a teenager, she had inspired a group of young women through her prayer and her care for the poor. However, her hometown of Trentino in northern Italy was being bombed, so her father decided that the family should move into the safety of the mountains. But when they got to the mountains, Chiara decided that she had to go back. The poor would need someone to look after them, especially now.
So, she headed back to Trentino to look after all those who were struggling. A friendly priest gave her and her companions an apartment to live in and work out of. After a while, more and more people became aware of what she and her friends were doing, and so people began to donate goods to them for distribution. Kind of like how our Vinnies food drives, project compassion and the like work. As we all know, we all want to be involved in good stuff.
But the bit about Chiara Lubich I want to focus on is the common life of the women. In particular, I want to focus on their routine in the morning. Each morning before they headed out from their apartment to help each other, they would all join together. Each woman would then take it in turns to tell the others that she loved them and was prepared to die for them.
Imagine that! Imagine every day someone staring you in the face and telling you that they loved you so much that they were prepared to die for you. And this was every day. And because it was every day, it was not some romantic, passionate gesture; it had to have been way more matter of fact. It had to have been something much more basic, foundational. This was love as an act of the will, not some untrustworthy feeling. This was something you could start your day with, something you could rely on, something you could point to when needed. Imagine a community that started like this.
Well, that is us. That is what we are saying when we receive communion. In this Church, especially, there is no way to avoid saying it. When we approach the sanctuary to receive communion, we have that beautiful Cross right above us. So, each one of us knows what the Body of Christ looks like. We know how Jesus lives. We know how he loves. And we know for whom Jesus dies: each one of our brothers and sisters. In the pews next to us, in front and behind us in the communion line, and out on the street. As St John says in one of his letters, if we say we love God but we hate our brothers and sisters, then we are liars.
When we hear the words “the body of Christ”, we know what we are saying Amen to. We know who we are speaking to. And each one of us knows what is going on. This love we receive is the love we profess, to God and to each other. What a gift! How amazing that this is true, and indeed the truth of the world. And how much does the world need this Good News! That each one of us is loved beyond imagining. With a love that conquers fear and death.
Let’s recommit ourselves today to the joy that this good news brings. And let us really share it. Let us say Amen to the Body of Christ and truly live and love like he does.