The Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, is a supremely important one throughout Latin America, and in parts of Europe and Africa as well. I wrote an essay about its significance some years ago. The feast strikes me as particularly significant today, owing to the steadily tightening food shortages here: conditions living Americans have never before faced.
We’re not yet at the brink of national starvation. (And let’s all hope and pray that we never get there.) But Americans are used to the foods of their choice being available in quantity and variety, and at modest prices. That condition is endangered, as the ever more frequent phenomenon of the thinly populated (or bare) supermarket shelf will attest. One particular item, baby formula, has become a special problem. But there is one food the supply of which has never run low.
It’s called the Eucharist.
Conventional foods are subject to the Law of Supply and Demand. Demand being held constant, increased supply means lower prices, whereas reduced supply means higher prices. Supply being held constant, increased demand raises the price, whereas reduced demand lowers it. Coupled to the deliberate degradation of the dollar, the reduced supplies of popular foods have resulted in alarming increases in price. Families are beginning to tighten their belts…in some cases literally.
As food is a necessity whereas designer jeans, iPods, and vacations are not, the families worst affected by the increasing costs of food are the poorest among us. Those families’ expenditures on food make up a higher percentage of their overall expenditures than those of better-off families. Regardless of why a particular household is poor – American-style poor, which differs quite a bit from poverty in the rest of the world – it will feel the pinch of greatly elevated food prices intensely. Monetary charity can help today. It’s not guaranteed to be of much help should the shortages become worse.
But the Eucharist is always free.
I’m not suggesting that a penurious family attempt to subsist solely on the Eucharist long-term, though the historical records include cases of saints who did so. It’s just an observation: All are welcome at the altar. Yes, even the lapsed and the doubter. Those souls might be the most welcome of all. Moreover, churches are among the very best sources of assistance to needy families. Nearly all churches run or participate in charity pantries. Parishioners are remarkably generous toward such pantries…sometimes to the point of self-denial.
It’s something to keep in mind.
The Gospel According To John includes this passage, which follows shortly after the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes:
Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.
The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.
This might not comfort an empty belly, but it’s a supreme balm for the hungry soul. We who gather for the Eucharist will always welcome newcomers. They are often surprised by the beneficence that greets them – spiritual and temporal.
Have a happy and a blessed Corpus Christi Sunday. May God bless and keep you all.