There once was a rich young man by the name of Alexis. He lived in Rome during the fourth or fifth century and he lived at a time when it had just become legal to be a Catholic. People could finally practice the Christian faith out in the open. Both of Alexis’ parents were devout Catholics and his father was a senator. Alexis’ parents taught him the faith and taught him to be especially charitable to the poor. When Alexis was a teenager, he decided that he wanted to give up everything, give up his wealth and give up his place of privilege in Roman society. He wanted to live a life of poverty and prayer, and he wanted to do this all for God, but his parents had other plans for him. They had arranged for him to marry a rich young woman. And because it was their will for him he went along with it. He really listened to his parents. Yet on his wedding day when he saw his bride for the first time, he had second thoughts, this woman was smart, loving, and beautiful, and she would be a great wife, but even so, he asked for her permission to leave her for God. She gave him the permission. So he left.
He made his way to Syria, where he lived the life of a beggar. Any money he received he first shared with the many poor people around him using only what was left over for himself. When he wasn’t begging he was praying in the various churches of the city. After living this way for several years people began to recognize him for his extraordinary holiness. People would come to him for advice and to ask for his prayers. They called him the living saint. And this made him very uncomfortable. So after seventeen years in Syria he made his way back to Rome and to his parents’ house. He came as a beggar to his own house where he’d grown up. His parents didn’t recognize him and so he started living under the stairs leading up to the front door. His parents allowed him to live there not knowing who he really was. And there he stayed spending his time begging for food, praying in the churches of Rome, and teaching the homeless about God. With his parents never realizing who he was, even though they passed him and looked at him every day as they went to and from their house.
Now the servants of that house were quite cruel to Alexis and though he could have ended all these sufferings just by telling his parents who he was, he chose to say nothing. Alexis lived this way for 17 years. It was a hard way of life. And one morning the servants found him dead under the stairs. But before burying him they went through his few possessions even going through the pockets of the jacket he was wearing. And in one of his pockets they found a note. The note explained to them who he was and how he had lived this life of penance and prayer from the day his wedding was supposed to take place until then, a total of thirty-four years. Writing that he did it all for the love of God. Praying and sacrificing for the people of God.
When Alexis’ mother came to look and to hold the dead body of her son she cried out, “My son, my Alexis, I have known you too late! You were there all the time and I never really saw you.” She was heartbroken. This was a good and charitable woman but she had seen her son every day for seventeen years yet she didn’t really see him. She had heard her son every day for seventeen years yet she didn’t really hear him. She had invited her son into her home yet she didn’t really invite him in. He got only as far as the space beneath the stairs. It was a superficial relationship. Alexis’ parents looked at their son every day for 17 years without ever seeing him. And then it was too late.
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are reminded that at the end of our life our soul will see at last our Lord who we have possessed all along in the Eucharist. At that time will we say to our Lord using the same words as Alexis’ mom, “My Jesus, my Lord, I have known you too late! You were there all the time and I never really saw you!” After a lifetime of receiving the Eucharist did our soul really see who he or she was consuming?
In the middle ages people rarely received the Eucharist. They might receive on a special occasion or a milestone event in their life like an anniversary, but it was very rare for to receive Holy Communion. And if they were not receiving, the high point of the Mass for them were the two elevations. The elevation of the Sacred Host and the elevation of the Chalice of Precious Blood. Bells were rung to remind them of the importance of these two moments. At those moments their eyes were focused intently at the Eucharist. And in those moments they received Jesus into their soul through the sense of sight. They were taking in the Divine through the sense of sight. As poets will sometimes write, the eyes are the windows into the soul. That’s why we take care to keep custody of our eyes, guarding them against the profane and the impure. What we receive through the sense of sight really has an effect on our soul. That can be for good or for bad. But when we look at something that has true beauty, that true beauty has a way of lifting our soul to heaven. And so we look at beauty, we look at the Eucharist. Those people in the middle ages through the sense of sight were making a spiritual communion with Jesus.
Before ever tasting the Eucharist, we see the Eucharist and in faith we get a view of Heaven. To look upon the Eucharist is to practice Heaven, because in Heaven for all eternity we will look intently on our Lord. We won’t be golfing or playing cards in heaven, we’ll be adoring God. That’s why adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is so good for us. It’s practice for Heaven. Even if it’s difficult for us sit there/kneel there, good things are still happening to our souls.
On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ we remind ourselves that we should occupy ourselves with simply looking at Him who is looking at us. Keeping Him company, talking with Him, praying to Him, remembering what a privilege it is to be near Him and to receive Him into our very being. Let us always look with love upon the One who has known us and loved us from before all time.
Let us be great Saints,
Rev. Christopher J. Ankley