By: Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
It has been a little over a year since the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints gave its go-ahead to begin the procession of canonization of the martyred Iraqi priest, Fr. Ragheed Ganni and his companions, Deacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Isam Bidawid.
On June 3rd, 2007 Fr. Ragheed, a 35-year-old Chaldean Catholic priest was stopped by Islamist gunmen soon after celebrating the Divine Liturgy at Holy Spirit Chaldean Catholic Church in the city of Mosul. After demanding that he close his parish and convert to Islam, which he refused to do, the gunmen killed him and his three companions.
In the weeks before his death, Fr.Ragheed preached about “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.”
As we approach the celebration on the Solemnity of the Lord’s Body and Blood on June 23rd, I think that witness of Fr.Ragheed and his companions, which in 2007 came just a week before the celebration of Corpus Christi, is a reminder that as the Body of Christ, without Sunday, without the Eucharist, we cannot survive as Christians.
Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the day we meet Christ, risen from the dead. Sunday is the day we remember that love is more powerful than hatred. Sunday is the day that we remember that the mercy and peace of Christ has overcome the mercilessness and violence of this world. Sunday is the day we remember that in Christ’s resurrection, life has conquered death.
In the first reading for the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church reads from the book of Genesis and remembers our ancestor in faith, the priest Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine in thanksgiving for Abram’s deliverance from his enemies.
Each Sunday the Church gathers to remember that we cannot survive as Christ’s Body unless we gather with our high priest, Jesus, who offers thanks and praise to the Father for our deliverance from the power of sin and death and for our new life in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
We cannot survive as the Body of Christ without the Eucharist because each time we receive the gift of his Body and Blood, we remember how to give as Jesus gave.
In the second reading for the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, St. Paul addresses the Christian community of Corinth and to every generation of believers, handing onto them the tradition that he received from the Lord concerning the Lord’s Supper.
He told his disciples then and tells us now that on the night before Jesus was betrayed and put to death, he gave his disciples the bread which is his body broken for the life of the world, and the cup of wine, which is his blood poured out for our salvation. He commanded them to and commands us to “Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the gift of his Body and Blood, at the Last Supper and on the Cross, Jesus showed them the meaning of his life. He showed them how to live as one who gives himself totally. He gave his body and shed his blood, giving his life for others. Jesus offered up his life to the Father; he gave himself completely to the brothers and sisters; he emptied himself for the poor and needy and died for the enemies who took his life so cruelly.
As Fr. Ragheed and his companions testified through their own offering of their lives, Christians cannot survive without the Eucharist because the Eucharist teaches us how to give ourselves completely as Jesus did and gives us the grace to imitate his example.
It is this self-giving that Jesus commands us to do in remembrance of him. He commands us to remember him as one who was consumed for love. The Lord commands us to remember his offering by becoming ourselves an offering for the life of the world.
We cannot survive as Christians without the Eucharist because each time we celebrate the Eucharist, 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 hold tightly to whatever we possess; the Eucharist invites us to share everything we have, up to and including our most precious possession, our own lives. Although it is unlikely that any of us will ever be confronted with the stark choice facing Fr. Ragheed and his companions, each of us is given many opportunities, short of shedding our blood, to give ourselves on behalf of others for the love of Jesus.
This year the gospel reading for the Body and Blood of Christ is the account from Luke of the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples brought to Jesus’ attention that at the end of the day, the crowds were hungry and that in the wilderness where they had gathered, there was nothing to eat. Jesus’ reply seems uncaring when he says, “Give them some food yourselves.”
However, he fed the multitude with the two fish and five loaves that the disciples gave him. All ate and drank and were satisfied and there was such an abundance of food that the leftover fragments filled twelve wicker baskets.
Jesus continues to feed the hungry crowds in the desert with the food and drink of his Body and Blood.
We cannot survive as Christians without the Eucharist because as his Mystical Body, nourished by his Body and Blood, we become the food and drink that the Lord offers for a world filled with men and women who hunger and thirst for belonging, for mercy, for forgiveness, for truth, for love and for peace.
This world cannot survive without Christians who each day are willing to be the Lord’s Body and Blood broken and poured out in imitation of Jesus 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.”
Each Sunday, when we gather as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist, we join the company of the angels and saints who praise God eternally at the heavenly banquet. With the martyrs like Fr. Ragheed and his companions who stand before at the altar of sacrifice with all those throughout the ages who have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb,” we say ‘Amen’ to the Lord’s oblation of his Body broken and his Blood poured out.
We cannot live without the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation because the holy gifts of the Lord’s Body and Blood are nothing less than Jesus, our life and our hope.