Reflection from Deacon Charles Corbalis, Pastoral Associate . . .
Words can be powerful. There is a well-known story about two boy altar servers that demonstrates this point. One boy was serving at a parish in Illinois and the other was serving in Eastern Europe. While assisting the priest with Holy Communion, each boy accidentally spilled some wine from the chalice onto the floor.
At the church in Eastern Europe, the priest saw the purple stain on the floor and then saw red. He angrily got in the boy’s face and said “You clumsy oaf. Leave the altar right now.
Your services are no longer needed here!” In Illinois, the priest responded differently. He said, “That’s okay, son. We all have an accident from time to time. You will be more careful and do better next time, I know. I’m sure you will be a fine priest someday.”
The altar server from Illinois was Fulton Sheen. He grew up to become the beloved Archbishop of New York and a popular television personality. The altar sever from Eastern Europe was Josip Bronz Tito. He grew up to become the despotic dictator of Yugoslavia, responsible for the eradication of ethnic Germans after WWII through expulsions and mass executions.
Now we can be pretty sure that the different paths these men’s lives took cannot be tied solely to this single experience. Nevertheless, we must ask what the world might have been had the priest that Eastern European morning behaved differently.
As hard as it is to believe, our puny human words can and do change reality.
They can affirm or destroy. They are particularly powerful when the person saying them is one in authority. For example, if Fr. John walked up to you and said, “You are under arrest,” you would probably think that it was a punchline to a joke you had missed and ask him to repeat it. But if it were not Fr. John, but rather a police officer, that would be different. Your reality would have suddenly changed dramatically as you are about to experience the inside of a jail cell.
If our puny human words can change history and lives, particularly if they are spoken from a position of authority—in love or in anger—what kind of power do the words of God have? Well, here are some examples:
- “Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. (Gen 1:3)”
- Leper: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus: “I do will it.
Be made clean (Mk 1:40-41).”
- Jesus to the paralytic: “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”He rose and went home (Mt 9:6-7).”
While our words can influence others in dramatic ways, God’s words can change nature itself. They can create, cleanse, and heal. So can we have confidence that when Jesus spoke to the bread: “This is my body,” and to the chalice of wine: “This is my blood of the covenant (Mk 14:22,24)”, that the bread and wine really do become his body and blood? Even if we can’t prove that it has happened, it seem awfully reasonable to believe that it has. That is, if we really believe that Jesus is God.
While we can’t know the details of ‘how’ such a transformation takes place, we can know the ‘why.’ In fact we say it just before we receive the Lord in Holy Communion at every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy…but only SAY THE WORD and I shall be healed.”
On this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, come and be healed.