Or, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ–the day we give thanks particularly for the gift of the Eucharist. Of course I don't give homilies, but that doesn't mean I don't ever think about what I might say. I know what I would have said today. So if the kids had asked what it was all about…
When I teach on the sacraments, I always talk about the stuff–the water, the bread, the wine. We have the necessary recitation of the standard definition–'a visible sign of an invisible grace'. The great thing about the stuff is that it still looks and feels and seems in every way just like the same old stuff that it was before the priest or bishop blessed it. So the bread and wine still look and taste like bread and wine.
Now, you might say (especially if you happened to be my son Thomas, who thinks about these things) that it would be better if something visible and tangible changed about the bread and wine. Then you'd be certain that something had really happened. If it is different, maybe it should seem different.
Maybe. But maybe not. Because the stuff God uses to apply grace to our mortal bodies is just like those bodies: ordinary, created, material. When we're baptised, we don't look different. We don't look different after confirmation. We can look in the mirror before going to confession and after doing penance, and we won't look different (at least not so very different). And this, I think is a good thing. The bread and wine retain their basic qualities, and, to all our senses, are still bread and wine. God can make these simple things instruments of an incredibly powerful grace, so very, very gently that we cannot detect any difference.
So also, I think, with us. God can fill us completely with that grace, and transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit, so gently that we look in the mirror and see the same person we saw yesterday. Not only that, but somehow all the grace-inspired things we do are still ours. We are still the ones loving, believing, hoping, caring, praying…and at the same time it is the Holy Spirit's indwelling that moves us. Living by grace isn't an either-or kind of life. It isn't that I become less myself as I decrease so that Christ's life can increase in me. No: my 'self' is even more 'me' as I become more fully Christ-like. Because God can do that with stuff. If the Holy Spirit can do that with bread and wine and water, I can hope that the same Spirit can do that same sort of thing with me.
'Now it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me'–may it be so.