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Sunday, June 26, 2011

From the Pastor - The Feast of Corpus Christi

A weekly column by Father George Rutler.

T he seasonal allergy of commencement addresses with their platitudes and grandiosities is now ending, and most of them will be wiped from memory by the healing unction of time. I read one particularly ineloquent speech that cannot easily be forgotten because of the nonchalant way the speaker unleashed a cataract of tasteless humor and crude language. He even mocked the words of the school's motto, which is a quotation of the Word of God.

The evaporation of erudition in our universities has made celebrity more important than science, so that degree ceremonies are addressed by entertainers instead of scholars. There is no equilibrium in this: the number of lame comedians speaking at graduations is greater than the number of philologists speaking at the Oscar ceremonies. More foreboding is the way the confusion of fame with integrity is applauded by reasonably intelligent people. The coarsening of speech turns from thesis to fact when it degrades even those who have had some vestigial acquaintance with high culture.

Two thousand years ago, a voice cried out in the wilderness announcing the approach of the Word of God in the flesh. Then the Word spoke: “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:54). In response, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life, and no longer accompanied Him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ ” (John 6:66-68).

In the succession of Simon Peter, Benedict XVI leads the faithful on the Feast of Corpus Christi, bidding a fractious culture not to return to its former way of life. With degraded voices all around — the shrill echoes of proud people who once thought their academies and economies would last forever — Christ speaks to us by His true presence in the Eucharist, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. His priest at the altar invokes the same power that made the universe out of nothing: “And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist.”

Christ the Living Word condescends to come among us so that we might not be vulgarized, and He allows Himself to be mocked, so that we are not demeaned. That is why, after hearing Jesus, even skeptics said what no one has ever been able to say at the end of a graduation speech, however worthy or ignoble: “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks” (John 7: 46).

Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of the Church of our Saviour in New York City. His latest book, Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, is available from Crossroads Publishing.

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