[Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-59]
It has been a while since I last visited the parish, and I am delighted to return. As I looked forward to this visit, I have been recalling to mind some features of life here in Grande Cache. In this homily, I would like to highlight a handful of them, since they can help us explore the message of the scriptural texts and highlight important dimensions of the wondrous mystery we are celebrating on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi – the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Let’s begin with the name itself – Grande Cache. Mr. Google tells us it stems from the decision around 1820 of the Iroquois fur trader, Ignace Giasson, to store, or “cache”, a large number of furs he had amassed, since they were too heavy for him to carry through the winter snows. In one sense we are all like Ignace in that, at various times of our lives, we also have burdens that are far too heavy to carry: not furs, but things like family difficulties, job insecurity, financial troubles, guilt from past sins and mistakes, and so on. Unlike Ignace, we cannot simply store them away. Although too heavy to carry, we have to bear them nonetheless. How can we carry these burdens of life so difficult to bear? The answer is the Eucharist.
Consider the experience of our ancestors in the faith. In the first reading, Moses is reminding them of the enormous burden they carried as a people wandering in the desert, and also how they were able to bear it. They could endure their suffering and hardship because they were nourished by God with bread from heaven called manna. Even more wondrously so is this the case for us. In the Gospel text, Jesus speaks of himself as the true bread from heaven. He gives us this gift of himself in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here at mass, we are fed with Jesus, the Bread of Life, so that he himself becomes our very strength. Nourished by Jesus, we find that we can carry the burdens that we could not bear alone.
The second feature of life here in Grande Cache I would like to highlight is its long distance from the centre. The city of Edmonton, as the capital, is the political centre of the province. It is also the ecclesial centre of the Archdiocese. This can leave one with the sense of being on the periphery of things. At a deeper level, however, Catholics, wherever they have their physical abode, are never far from the centre. This is precisely because of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The true centre of all things is Jesus, and by means of the Eucharist we live in deepest communion with him. As we hear Saint Paul put it, reception of the Eucharist is a very sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. In the heart of Jesus, there are no peripheries. He is always near, closer to us than we could ever imagine.
Third, Grande Cache plays host every year to the Canadian Death Race. I’m thinking of registering for it. Advertisements tell us that racers sign up for this 125-kilometer ultramarathon through the mountains in order “to cheat death”. “Invite death” is probably more like it. We know that none of us can cheat death. It comes to all of us eventually, even to those who complete the marathon.
However, there is One who has cheated death. By his resurrection from the dead, Jesus has destroyed forever the power of death and thus opened the way to eternal life for those who die believing in him. In the Gospel passage, we hear Jesus tell us that those who eat his body and drink his blood are given a share in his own victory over death: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day.” This is what occurs in the Eucharist, where simple gifts of bread and wine are so completely changed that they are bread and wine no longer but the true body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus. We could never cheat death on our own, but by our sharing in the Eucharist we do just that, because our participation in Jesus’s own victory over death means that life does not end when we die; it is changed as Jesus welcomes us by his mercy into eternal life.
Finally, Grande Cache and area is a locale of breathtaking beauty, in my view. The environment around us bespeaks the majesty of God, whose creative power fashions the good and the beautiful. More wondrously beautiful is our internal environment, by which I mean the heart re-created by the power of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, that love touches us anew, as yet again Jesus gives us his very self and further deepens the beauty that each of us is as a child of God.
With joy and thanksgiving, then, let us today receive the Lord in Holy Communion as our strength and hope as we journey in him and with one another toward eternal life.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Holy Cross Parish, Grande Cache, Alberta
June 11th, 2023