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PreachJune 05, 2023
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“The most important thing for me when I enter into preparing a homily is just being able to authentically give witness to who I am and where I am in my relationship with Christ,” says the Rev. John Gribowich. “If I can’t do that, then not only is it inauthentic, but it also just doesn’t really grab anyone.”

John Gribowich is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Today, he lives in San Francisco, Calif., where he serves as the religious studies teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High School. Along with theology and art history, his personal interests include meditating, reading, running and listening to Bob Dylan. Listen to John’s homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A, on this week’s episode of “Preach.”

After the homily, John shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., associate editor at America, how he thought to connect baseball to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

[Listen now and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or on your favorite podcast service.]

Nine times out of 10, people would come and talk to me about the homily and they were talking about something that I didn’t even talk about

Scripture Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A

First Reading: Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Second Reading: 1 Cor 10:16-17
Gospel: Jn 6:51-58

You can find the full text of the readings here.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year A, by John Gribowich

In the course of my life, I’ve lived in three cities with Major League Baseball teams: Philadelphia, New York, and, currently, San Francisco. And I have to say that I’ve attended numerous games over the years each in these cities, dutifully rooting for the home team, and I’ve even attended games in other cities throughout the country. So you may conclude that I’m a really big baseball fan. But the fact of the matter is that I’m really not—in fact, there are many rules of the games I simply don’t understand. I cannot tell you much about baseball statistics or who players are. In fact, I don’t think I even know how many players are supposed to actually be on the field. My knowledge of America’s pastime is elementary at best.

So, why is it that I, and (I would say) many others like me, go to baseball games when we’re really not into the sport?

I would say that perhaps we go to the game for something other than the game. When you think about how much goes into a baseball game and what’s going on at a game, it can be quite overwhelming. Of course we have the players on the field, and they’ve spent decades of their life practicing, working out, discipling themselves to be the best they could be. We have the umpires and the referees calling the game. We have workers making and selling overpriced hotdogs, pretzels, beers, and they know they have an indispensable role in facilitating just what we experience during the game. We have A/V technicians. We have entertainers, ushers, maintenance crew—the list goes on and on. And of course, let’s not forget about all the people involved in designing and building the stadium where all this action is taking place, the massive amount of infrastructure that goes into a city designed to build a stadium or to rebuild one. So clearly there’s lots of hands involved in a baseball game. Everyone has a role. And I would say that everyone finds meaning, purpose and joy in that role. I know for me, I find great joy simply being with other people who really love the game. I feel like that’s my role and why I go to games. It makes me happy seeing how happy they are. It’s fun to support them and their team, since I cannot claim allegiance to any one team.

Much like the small round white baseball, which gives purpose, meaning, and activity to everything else in that baseball stadium, so too does the small round white host give purpose, meaning and activity to, well, everything.

Yet when you get down to it, the entire enterprise known as baseball would not be possible if one simple, insignificant object was not in the stadium, and that’s the baseball itself. The ball enables everything else to take place, and you would not have the entire experience without the ball in the stadium.

Today, the church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, and it’s the last of a triple play (no pun intended) of unique Sunday celebrations: Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and now Corpus Christi, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And it’s a unique feast, since it seems to celebrate the primary way that we Catholics celebrate our faith: the celebration of the Mass. It’s kind of like having a party celebrating the fact that we not just have a birthday, but that we have birthday parties. So what exactly is going on here? I would say that much like the small round white baseball, which gives purpose, meaning, and activity to everything else in that baseball stadium, so too does the small round white host give purpose, meaning and activity to, well, everything. It wasn’t that long ago during Holy Week that we celebrated the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday.

And Jesus breaks the bread and shares the cup and states that these very elements are his body and blood. And as Jesus’ body and blood are separated on the cross, the separation of his body and blood in the appearance of bread and wine indicates that his presence among us is one of suffering. The suffering Christ is what unites us with him in holy Communion. In more explicit terms, we become what we eat. We become one with Jesus’s suffering, and Jesus becomes one with our suffering. The suffering of Jesus and our suffering is one and the same. But we know that the physical, mental and emotional suffering and ultimate death of Jesus is healed through his resurrection. So in a very real way, being united to Jesus’ passion intrinsically unites us to his healing and glory. But isn’t this all just some nice, feel-good theological proposal?

How exactly do we experience communion with Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection? And more pressingly, how does communion actually benefit us once we leave this church? Perhaps it might be best for us to reevaluate what we are seeking when we come to church.

Keeping our eye on the ball is what enables us to function as a body—the body of Christ.

Now, I hope that when we come to Mass, we are desiring to become better people: more loving, understanding, peaceful, compassionate. Yet how often do we leave Mass feeling the exact opposite, because of the homily, the music, the person in the pew who seems to look at us with a condescending stare? But perhaps it might be baseball that could give us a model of how to enter into the celebration of Mass, putting away our divisions to rally around a team, or maybe even more importantly, rallying around those we came with and those that we meet in the stands. Sure, there are two teams playing, and cheers are often surpassed by cheers, but isn’t there something about the whole experience that takes us outside of ourselves for a few hours? Where we laugh and cry with people who we might not even hang out with if we knew their political or religious affiliations? That little insignificant ball keeps us all united no matter what team is on top.

I would say that everyone in this church is looking for something out of life. Everyone here is struggling with something. Some here might enjoy this experience of Mass, like when your team wins the game. Others might be disappointed. Yet keeping our eye on the ball is what enables us to function as a body—the body of Christ. Because gazing upon the Lamb of God and then consuming him is more than what a baseball could ever do. In this enterprise, we all win because we all know what it means to lose. We have all endured suffering. We are all currently enduring, in some sort of way, something that’s painful or trying.

Yet for an hour, we hold space with those around us with our very presence. It is the simpleness of our very presence, just like the simpleness of a baseball and the simpleness of a small little piece of bread, which we call and know to be Jesus Christ. It is that presence with each other that reveals that there is something that truly unites us. We can all relate to each other because we all know what it means to suffer, and we can find healing in solidarity with each other. Our real presence at this place at this time is enough. No words even need to be spoken to the people around us because we all are the body of Christ because of our real presence.

Today, receive perhaps the least significant physical thing here today—a small wafer—and become leaven in the world with the least significant thing that you can do—your presence to another suffering member in the body of Christ. There’s nothing more real than that.

“Preach” is made possible through the generous support of the Compelling Preaching Initiative, a project of Lilly Endowment Inc.

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