Cardinal Czerny’s homily during our 2022 Orientation Assembly

Development and Peace — Caritas Canada is pleased to provide the homily given by Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., at the Mass he presided on Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Saint Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during our Orientation Assembly.

Development and Peace, Orientation Assembly 2022

Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Gen 14:18-20, Psalm 110, 1 Cor 11: 23-26, Luke 9: 11b-17
Halifax, June 18, 2022

Card. Michael Czerny, S.J.

1. In today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Luke’s gospel recounts the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish. But what he is really conveying is the crowd’s encounter with Jesus.

In the Gospels, crowds always appear as a large and anonymous mass. As Matthew says of Jesus, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The crowds appear as conglomerations of men, women and children whose names and faces no one knows. Such a generalised multitude – an abstract or statistical humanity – contrasts with Jesus’s encounters with individual men and women who, precisely because of his attentive gaze, his total welcome, his personal relationship with them, discover themselves restored to the dignity of being unique persons, loved by God in a singular and unrepeatable way. Think of the Apostles, the Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and so on.

Why is it important to focus on this encounter? Because what transforms a “crowd” into “People of God” is the encounter with the Lord Jesus. Jesus leads people from being lost in an undefined and standardised mass, a sort of statistical abstraction, into the life of God that is communion, in which unity does not cancel out differences and diversity.

2. The Eucharist is what allows us to have precisely this experience: when we commune with the Body and Blood of Christ, we personally encounter Jesus, and contact with his real presence in the Eucharistic sacrament restores our beautiful dignity as creatures always loved, always forgiven. This is why the Eucharist is inseparable from Baptism, because it makes explicit and shines forth our dignity as “Children of God”.

At the same time – as Henri De Lubac used to say – “the Eucharist makes the Church”, that is, it makes us realise that salvation always reaches us in the company of the men and women who walk with us in time and contemporary history. Our identity before God implies recognising that we are members of a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9). This is why the Eucharist is inseparable from the other sacrament of Christian initiation, namely Confirmation: in constituting us as “adopted children”, the Lord gives us the gift of siblings to be responsible for, to care for.

3. When faced with the crowd’s needs, the disciples are tempted to disregard them. They urge the Master to dismiss the anonymous crowd so that each may provide for him- or herself. Jesus has a different idea: “You give them to eat yourselves,” he says, and then dramatically, concretely, and miraculously makes it so.

What does his admonition “You give them to eat yourselves” mean for his disciples then and for the Church in Canada now? Jesus teaches his followers to serve the common good, not carefully avoid taking it on.

And voilà, this is the mission of Development and Peace: in the name of the Church in Canada, to go into the crowds labelled with the monstrously distressing abstractions of the world’s failures and injustices – poverty, violence, violations of human rights, environmental degradation, the dehumanising ‘isms’ of every sort – and bring them the loving, healing, dignifying and transforming presence of Jesus Christ. He himself names the signs, beginning with today’s miracle: the hungry are fed, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Or, in other words, D&P’s orientations and priorities and programmes.

4. The Eucharist is the sacrament of love that is multiplied by sharing and that directs us not to flee from, but rather to intercept, the “hunger” of the crowd. Hunger for food, for meaning and purpose, for dignity, for a horizon of hope. Hunger for that “humanisation” that only God can satisfy by opening up the path that makes us similar to him, because the fullness of the human is the divine. Hunger for what D&P can offer.

We cannot live the Eucharist as an individual duty or merely devotional practice, as if it were a matter of my private path of perfection. For the Eucharist concerns my way of being with myself, yes, but also with God, with my siblings, with the world. The Eucharist, sacrament of mature discipleship, invites us to turn our gaze towards the “hungry”, or in other words, to treat as our own the material and spiritual needs of the weakest. When we commune in the Body and Blood of Christ, it is Jesus who addresses each of us with those same words he addressed to the self-protective apostles: “You give them to eat yourselves.” Not only an invitation to take on the frail, to instruct and nourish the spirit, to communicate the joy of the Gospel, but to be “broken bread” ourselves, to offer our whole being as a gift to be immolated in uniting ourselves to the gift that Jesus makes of himself.

5. In the second reading, Paul recalls the profound meaning of all this through the verb “deliver, hand over” (paradidomi). It can also be translated as “betray”. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus is betrayed by Judas, who delivers him into the hands of the violent leaders and sends him to death on a cross. But it is also a theological verb because it expresses the way in which God the Father effects salvation in Christ: the Father delivers the Son to us as a gift, so that in his paschal mystery we may receive the life that does not die and finally see God face to face.

The Eucharist is always a “delivery”: Jesus freely hands himself over to us in the Eucharist as we freely give ourselves to Christ in the siblings he so totally identifies with: “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat” (Matthew 25:35).

This “delivery” presents a paradox: it is always a gift of life, of God for us; but it includes the constant risk of our sins betraying God, neighbour, oneself, the common home.

This is why, before the Sacrament, no one can ever claim a right: the Eucharist is welcomed, it is received, because we do not deserve this gift but receive it with total gratitude. As we pray that D&P receive, embrace and renew its mission in the name of the Church in Canada.

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