It has been a great joy to have spent the last five days with Ralph Martin. He was here for our Parish Mission—you can read about it in last week’s bulletin, which also provides biographical information for anyone who is unfamiliar with Ralph and the many blessings he has brought to the Church.
And this weekend he gave the annual retreat to the members of the permanent diaconate community in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
I’ve known Ralph for more than twenty years. I first met him when he came to give a talk in Vancouver, but he first influenced me forty years ago when his book Hungry for God (1974) taught me the priceless lesson that progress in prayer is the result of God’s gift, not my effort.
Nine years later Ralph wrote Crisis of Truth: The Attack on Faith, Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church (1983). I read it in the seminary and discovered that life in the Church was probably going to be more difficult than I had thought. The errors he exposed in that book became increasingly evident in the Church over the next twenty years.
Despite the influence and importance of these and many other books I think most people consider his finest work to be The Fulfillment of All Desire (2006). Subtitled ‘A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints’ it is “destined to be a modern classic on the spiritual life.” (An excellent accompanying Study Guide  is also available.)
On this Feast of Corpus Christi “the fulfillment of all desire” is a perfect theme for a homily.
I could easily devote this homily to the word “fulfillment.” In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Eucharist “the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles.” Fulfillment is a one-word summary of what the Scriptures tell us today.
The First Reading describes sacrifices—specifically, communion sacrifices—that are intended to solemnize a Covenant: a Covenant sealed in blood. The blood is first poured on the altar, which represents God. Then it is splashed on the people, uniting them to the blood on the altar.
In this Exodus account, “a union has been created from this blood relationship” and “the terms for preserving that relationship are spelled out” (The Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 105).
Every ten-year-old Christian knows what happens next. Before Moses is even down the mountain the people have already begun to worship the golden calf. To say that this Covenant is on shaky ground is an understatement.
But the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how the Blood of Christ initiates a new and perfect covenant. If there’s any doubt about that, we have the words of Jesus in the Gospel today “This is my Blood of the Covenant.”
Fulfillment. Pure and simple.
But the word that really inspires my thoughts today is ‘desire.’ It seems to me that the Eucharist must be desired to have its full effect in our lives, and that offers us an opportunity today to ask ourselves whether the Eucharist truly is the fulfillment of our desire.
Do we long for it? Do we hunger for it?
We should. St. Thomas not only calls the Sacrament the fulfillment of ancient figures and the greatest of all Christ’s miracles—in the same sentence he called it a “unique and abiding” consolation.
Priests and deacons have a bird’s eye view on this question. We ourselves can experience routine and over-familiarity. And giving Holy Communion to hundreds of people every Sunday we sometimes wonder how many people approaching the altar have any of the feelings that St. Thomas expressed when he wrote “O precious and wonderful banquet that brings us salvation, contains all sweetness.” Do we experience what Thomas called “spiritual delight, tasted at its very source”?
One of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in the parish told me she sometimes feels sad at the absent-minded expressions on the faces of those who stand before her. Of course it’s not what’s on our face, but what’s in our heart that matters. Still it’s easy to wonder why we don’t look a little more enthusiastic, a little more reverent, or even slightly awestruck as we approach the table of the Lord.
In the pews you will find the prayer St. Thomas wrote in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion. These cards have been in the pews for some weeks now; I’m not sure how many people have used them, but when we finally get the screens up and running I hope to project this prayer at least some of the time—so that it might increase our desire for this saving Sacrament; so that it might help us to hunger for the Bread of Angels; and so that it might help us to receive not only the Sacrament but also its full grace and power.
Thanksgiving after Communion is very important, and St. Thomas wrote a prayer for that too. But somehow I think we need most to excite desire in our hearts each time we approach the Eucharist. And so I wonder whether on this great Feast you might join me in the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas you find in the pew under the heading “Prayer before Mass.”
Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.
Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.