13 Jun 2023


Therapists and life-coaches describe it as the antidote to our fast-paced and distracted lives, and a remedy for many physical and psychological ailments.[1] Self-help guru Tony Robbins says it’s the best thing we can do for ourselves and others.[2] And Forbes magazine, the entrepreneurs’ bible, says it’s the most effective.[3] What is this magic bullet? Being present in the moment.

: Sounds easy: after all, we are always somewhere and often with someone. The COVID years helped us appreciate that, while the new media are great for information gathering, messaging, even some meetings, virtual presence is second best to real person-to-person presence. But in a culture of reduced attention-spans and constant multi-tasking, fear-of-missing-out and addiction to devices, of bombardment by information and opinion, industrial-commercial sights and social media sounds, of ever-growing workplace demands and home worries, it’s hard to be as present to what’s in front of us as we might like. We can get so lost in the busyness and distractions that we either manically grasshopper from thing to thing or drift off and function on autopilot. Even when dining or watching a movie with those we love, we can end up scrolling on our smart-phone or letting our minds wander. Being present requires more than just being there: we must attend to the place, people and concerns, gratefully appreciating each moment as a gift.

Michelangelo, The Creation of Man, Sistine Chapel (1508-12)

: One of the features of God in the Old Testament—that set Him apart from the rival deities of surrounding cultures—was precisely how present He was. He was no ‘set and forget’ kind of God, but much more ‘hands on’. He fashioned humanity from clay in His own image, with His own hands and breath, and He walked and talked with them in a paradisal garden. Even after the Fall, He sought to guide them, revealing Himself in various ways and entering into covenants to ensure their communion with Him. He was an intimate of Abraham, Moses, David and the Prophets, divulging His will through them, and enabling the Jews to pursue it.

: Israel experienced God, up close and personal, in fire and cloud, storm and breeze, in commandments and prophetic words, worship and prayer. His presence brought peace, joy, health and security. And He was especially present in the tent, temple or tabernacle of meeting, where His divine שְׁכִינָה (shekhinah) or presence was especially experienced.

All of which was but a prelude to what was coming. So great was God’s desire for proximity to us, He gave His only Son (Jn 3:16). Through the incarnation of Jesus, God’s presence to humanity was complete. The Creator “transcended His own transcendence”, becoming Emmanuel (God-with-us), the Word made flesh and camping among us. When people encountered Jesus teaching or healing, celebrating or suffering, they knew they were especially close to God. In Him God was present to crowds, friends, adversaries, and especially to the apostles and holy women.

But after 33 years, Jesus returned to the Father, and we were left behind. God no longer walked with us in a garden in Eden, Galilee or Jerusalem. Knowing the disciples would feel abandoned, Jesus was anxious for them on the night before He died (Jn chs 14-17). So He instituted a gift that still boggles the mind two millennia later.

Fra Angelico, The Communion of the Apostles (1437-46), San Marco Florence

: Jesus gave us His Body and Blood to be received sacramentally. This meant He could now be present in many places at once, not just in Israel, but on every altar and tongue, in every tabernacle and heart, wherever Mass was celebrated, anywhere in the world. And He would be present not just virtually or symbolically, but really, substantially, person-to-person. Hence His parting promise: to be with us always (Mt 28:20). Hence His new covenant, inviting us into a communion that supersedes the divine presences of old. Now God gives His all, His divinity and humanity, flesh and blood, body and soul, everything for us (cf. 1Cor 10:16-17). And not just as something to treasure, even adore, but to receive into our own substance. This really is this is God with us, for us and in us.

Do we really believe this? A survey by Pew Research in the U.S. found that while two-thirds of practising Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament, a third are unsure or think it’s only symbolic. That third rises to a whopping 87% amongst those who rarely attend Mass. Perhaps it was ever thus: as we heard in our Gospel (Jn 6:51-58), even back in Jesus’ day people objected: you can’t mean this literally; surely you’re being metaphorical? Jesus could not have been more clear in His response: “I tell you most solemnly, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you cannot have life in you. So, eat my flesh and drink my blood that you may have eternal life… My flesh is real food, my blood real drink… Whoever consumes me draws life from me.” Many left Him that day, John tells us, because they could not accept this teaching (Jn 6:66).

The great Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe once told the story of a child who, though under three, had already been introduced to the mystery of the Eucharist in simple language. One day when the boy’s mother was returning from Holy Communion, she was met by her son in the free space at the back of the church.

“Is He in you?” the boy asked.

“Yes,” she replied. And to her amazement, the boy immediately prostrated himself in front of her.

What the boy had grasped, with childish innocence, was one of Christianity’s most audacious claims: that this is God! Here is a remembrance of that former age, when His Body was broken and Blood spilt for our salvation. Here is a foretaste of the age to come, when we will commune with Him and the saints in heaven. But here also is Christ with us in the present age, with an authenticity and intensity He is nowhere else.

In this wonderful sacrament is God sanctifying the world in Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Promises. Here, also, is the whole spiritual good of the Church, her worship, teachings and outreach, all offered to the Father through Him (CCC 1324-25). The Eucharist is “the summary of our faith” (CCC 1327) and “the source and summit” of our life (Vatican II, SC 11; CCC 1324), for here we encounter Christ giving us all that He is here and now. To which we sing a Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and say our own at Holy Communion: “Amen. Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, come into the world, come into me. I love you. I need you!” (cf. Jn 11:27)

Word after Holy Communion

What a joy to celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ with you today! The Archdiocese of Sydney’s annual Walk With Christ commences today with a festival in Martin Place from 1pm, followed by the Corpus Christi procession at 2:30pm sharp from the corner of Martin Place and Pitt Street, and concluding with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on the steps of the cathedral. It is a beautiful, public celebration of our faith in Christ’s real presence and power to save in the Holy Eucharist. I would love to see you there if you are able to join me.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/articles/200811/the-art-now-six-steps-living-in-the-moment

[2] https://www.tonyrobbins.com/the-gifts-of-life/presence/

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/11/25/how-being-present-can-be-the-most-effective-thing-you-do-today/?sh=1052a8387952

Introduction to Mass of Corpus Christi The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 11 June 2023

Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney for the Solemn Mass of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Today we celebrate “the source and summit of the Christian life”: the Eucharist. In giving us His real presence in this sacrament, Jesus fulfils His promise to be with us all until the end of time. And He is with us in a way that allows us to be spiritually nourished week by week and to cling ever more closely to Him as our way, and truth, and life.

As I recover from a broken ankle and surgery, I trust you will forgive me not mounting the stairs of the sanctuary or pulpit. I welcome Bishop Umbers to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist for us today.

To all of you present on this joyous feast, both regulars and visitors, a very warm welcome to you all!