Corpus Christi

Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan: Source:

This is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). I used to live in community with a holy Jesuit Brother. He taught me a great deal about not taking for granted the gift of my daily access to the Eucharist, especially in a world where so many devout Catholics, especially in remote areas, do not have access to a regular celebration of the Eucharist.

Br. John Masterson used to regularly share at community meetings that he felt so privileged. All he had to do was walk out of his room and take about twenty paces in order to reach the house chapel, where there was a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament and Mass was celebrated each day.

I think of him as we acknowledge this feast. He is still alive, living at Rene Goupil, the Jesuit infirmary. He is the most regular visitor to the chapel.

There is a line from the Sequence from the Feast of Corpus Christi that refers to the “living and life-giving Bread.” It calls to mind the words from Jesus about giving bread “for the life of the world.”

Jesus says, in the Gospel that his blood is “poured out for many.” In other words, the Eucharist has to make a difference in our lives. Our participation in the celebration is not passive. We don’t just sit in the pews and be disengaged from the Word of God or from the actions taking place.

We bring our real lives to the Mass. And, we are blessed and dismissed (missioned) to live the Gospel with our lives.

Let me share an excerpt from the writings of Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan. He lived from 1928-2002 and spent thirteen years in prison in Communist Vietnam, nine of them in solitary confinement.

In his 2007 encyclical, Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI referred to Thuan’s writings from prison:

During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope – to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.”

His cause for beatification and canonization has started and he is called Servant of God. Here are his words:

“When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The faithful sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, ‘medicine for stomach-aches.’ They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity. The police asked me, ‘You have stomach-aches?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Here’s some medicine for you.’

 I will never be able to express my great joy! Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body. Each time I celebrated the Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine. Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life!”

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Maria Skarzynski
    Posted at 11:21h, 23 June Reply

    Thank you Father for telling us about Cardinal Thuan – such a powerful example for today. Hope that you are well and enjoying the summer !!

  • Esther Gilbert
    Posted at 11:40h, 23 June Reply

    Breathtaking! Where might I find what he’s written? I will search. I need every affirmation as I take what appears to be the next right step.
    thank you again!

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 14:17h, 23 June Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Janet Somerville
    Posted at 00:09h, 25 June Reply

    Wow! What a moving testimony from a Christian (also priest and bishop) in such a searing situation! I had not known about him, but I rejoice that the process towards his canonization has begun! Thank you, Father Shano, for quoting him and for finding (how???) even a photograph of his celebration of Mass!

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