The Bread of Life
Astronaut Mike Hopkins
Solemnity of the Corpus Christi, Year A
On May 30 of this year while we were sheltering in place, SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched into space. The mission was the first time that astronauts have launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011. In 2013, however, going down memory lane, something special happened to one of the astronauts on board, Astronaut Mike Hopkins:
He was one of the selected few: he spent six months in the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013. And though he was thrilled when he was chosen for a space mission, there was one Person he didn’t want to leave behind: Jesus in the Eucharist. Hopkins had been received into the Church less than a year before his launch. After a long wait, he was finally able to receive Our Lord at each Mass. Facing the prospect of being off the planet for half a year, he decided he had to find out if Jesus could travel with him. It turns out he could — and he did. Hopkins says, “In 2011, I got assigned to a mission to the International Space Station. I was going to go up and spend six months in space, starting in 2013. So, I started asking the question,’ Is there any chance I can take the Eucharist up with me into space?’ The weekend before I left for Russia — we launch on a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan — I went to Mass one last time, and [the priest with permission from his bishop] consecrated the wafers into the Body of Christ, and I was able to take the pyx with me. NASA has been great. … They didn’t have any reservations about me taking the Eucharist up or to practicing my faith in orbit. The Russians were amazing. I went in with all my personal items, and I explained what the pyx was and the meaning of it to me —it was the Body of Christ. And they completely understood. I was able to take the Eucharist up — and I was able to have Communion, basically, every week.
Do we have the same regard for the Body of Christ, the Corpus Christi like Hopkins, who brought the Blessed Eucharist up with him to space? How far can we go to make sure that we receive the Holy Eucharist signifying the Real Presence of Christ - BODY, BLOOD, SOUL and DIVINITY? This Sunday, in a solemnity, we give honor to Jesus, His Real Presence in the Blessed Eucharist, the Corpus Christi. How?
1. By becoming “Bread” and “Wine” for others. It might be hard for us to understand how we become “bread” and “wine” to others. There is a saying, “You are what you eat.” And so, when we eat of the bread and drink of the wine we come to share in the divinity of Christ and become one like him by sharing His paschal mystery, his passion, death and resurrection. As Jesus shares His Person to us, we too, are called as His followers to sacrifice ourselves for others as Christ did.
There was to be a Baptismal party for the new baby of a soldier and his wife at their home on an Army base. Before the ceremony the chaplain took the new father aside. "Are you prepared for this solemn event?" he asked. "I guess so," replied the soldier. "I've got two hams, pickles, bread, cake, cookies…" "No, no!" interrupted the chaplain. "I mean spiritually prepared!" "Well, I don't know," said the soldier thoughtfully. "Do you think two cases of whiskey are enough?" Beyond all that we hunger for physically, is our hunger for spiritual nourishment. Sometimes people aren't even aware that this exists. But Jesus realized this hunger and instituted the Holy Eucharist to feed our starving souls. (Harold Buetow in "God Still Speaks: Listen!")
When we eat the Bread of Life, we are called not only to satisfy our spiritual hunger but to put to practice the very life of Christ, who sacrificed even his life to save us.
2. By fully appreciating Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Christ is present BODY, BLOOD, SOUL and DIVINITY in the Blessed Eucharist. The Fathers of the Church explain this truth that, while ordinary food is assimilated into man, the very opposite takes place in Holy Communion. Here man is assimilated into the Bread of Life calling us to receive it with due reverence, true repentance, proper preparation and grateful hearts.
What sort of preparation do we do to receive him? How reverently do we receive him in the Eucharist? Upon receiving him, do we spend some time in prayer and silence thanking God for such honor receiving him in the Eucharist? How do we participate actively in the one-hour Eucharistic celebration? The real presence of Christ is not something that was made up by the Catholic Church. It is a dogma that has been tested through time, which demands our faith and devotion.
3. By seeing God’s love vividly expressed in the Holy Eucharist. Blessed John Paul II once taught: “The Eucharist is the sacrament of the presence of Christ, who gives himself to us because he loves us. He loves each one of us in a unique and personal way in our practical daily lives: in our families, among our friends, at study and work, in rest and relaxation. He loves us when he fills our days with freshness, and also when, in times of suffering, he allows trials to weigh upon us: even in the most severe trials, he lets us hear his voice. To celebrate the Eucharist, ‘to eat his flesh and drink his blood,’ means to accept the wisdom of the cross and the path of service. It means that we signal our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others, as Christ has done.” - Ecclesia de Eucharistia
In other words, as we receive him in the Blessed Eucharist, we are given a special task, a mission to do what Christ did on the Cross – to surrender ourselves and to dedicate our lives to service in SELFLESS LOVE.
Going back to Astronaut Mike Hopkins, this is how he described his experience receiving the Holy Eucharist in space:
“There were a couple of times when I received Communion on, I’ll say, special occasions: I did two spacewalks; so, on the morning of both of those days, when I went out for the spacewalk, I had Communion. It was really helpful for me to know that Jesus was with me when I went out the hatch into the vacuum of space. And then I received my last Communion on my last day on orbit in the ‘Cupola, ’which is this large window that looks down at the Earth, and that was a very special moment before I came home.” Isn’t this wonderful? Other than Hopkins, going back further in history, the first meal to be eaten on the moon was the Blessed Eucharist brought by Buzz Aldrin in a pyx.
This Sunday, let us LOOK BACK and re-evaluate our ways of seeing Christ in the Eucharist. What has the Eucharist to do with us? If we know who Christ is in the Eucharist, as we receive him, we will come to fully yearn for the nourishment he gives to us in the Bread of Life who is Christ HIMSELF! NOTHING or NO ONE ELSE can satisfy us other than Jesus, the Bread of Life whom we receive in the Eucharist. Believe and live it up!
Let me end with a quote from our patron Saint, Anthony of Padua whose feast we celebrated yesterday. He said, "The life of the body is the soul. The life of the soul is God." Let me add to that by saying that God fills and nourishes the soul when we receive Him body, blood, soul and divinity in the Blessed Eucharist!