Right around the time period when Forest Gump donned his first pair of Puma’s, our associate pastor had invited me to do something he called, “jogging.” At the time, I was understandably reluctant as it had been several years since I had done anything truly athletic.
While I had signed no formal letter of intent, nonetheless, at the start of my high school career, I had made an informal (and unconscious) commitment to the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. I agreed to smoke a pack-and-a-half of Marlboro’s a day throughout high school. In turn, they agreed to take my money and my childhood passions of basketball and soccer away from me. By the time I was nineteen, I felt as old as Fred Sanford. Even moderate physical activities made me feel like the Lord’s sweet chariots were “coming for to carry me home.”
Fr. Tom’s invitation to jog with him came after high school, during the summer after I had severed all contact with RJ Reynolds. Nonetheless, his call to run beside and between cornfields on a hot, sticky, rural road for no apparent reason, conjured up painful memories of coughing, hacking, and pounding headaches.
Besides his obvious talents for transubstantiation, and preaching, on that 1980 Saturday in June, Fr. Tom manifested a latent talent for sales. “Come on, just one mile! We can walk whenever you’re tired. I’ll take it slow…just to the creek and back….” When all this failed, he took out the big guns. “Come on you wuss! Maybe I’ll get your little brother to come instead. No wait. I’ll bet your mom could do a better job running than you. Hold on. What’s your grandma’s phone number? I’ll ask her.” After the insults failed, came the offer to treat me to a post-jogging blueberry “Slushie.” That sealed the deal.
It would be hard to read this Sunday’s Gospel (John 6: 51-58) and come away believing that Jesus had any latent interest in a sales career. If his intention was to get a large throng to start running with his Apostles and him, then all that talk of eating his body and drinking his blood was no way to seal the deal. Later in the chapter, the crowd that had previously been running with him abandoned him and “returned to their former way of life” (vs. 66).
Centuries later, a Dominican priest, Thomas Aquinas, discovered a more palatable way to describe the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the ancient writings of Aristotle, Aquinas found a philosophical way to describe what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel. He called it, “transubstantiation.” That multi-syllabic way of describing the Real Presence has to do with God’s use of humble, everyday elements (i.e. bread and wine) that are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
Here on the Feast of Corpus Christi, thirty-one pairs of jogging shoes after that fateful summer’s afternoon with Father Tom, I find myself reflecting on how God uses seemingly small, subtle, insignificant events to change the course of a life. On a lazy, otherwise unremarkable day, God took the simple elements of Father Tom’s hobby, along with his willingness to persuade and cajole, and turned them into an opportunity to give me back my body along with my forgotten love for athleticism.
One of the lessons of this Sunday’s feast is that transformation is not generally found in the grand gesture. It is found in the tiny things…like daily bread…like a good habit practiced over and over again…like communion received week-after week until the nightfall of life. God leaves his most profound and transformative fingerprints on the subtle, small things of life. In what small way could you cooperate with God’s plan to pour more joy, and more love into your days?