Her name was Juliana of Liège
If you ever doubt that one person can have an impact on the world, you need to hear her story. It has relevance for every one of us here today.
Juliana was born in Belgium in the 12th century —in 1192 or 1193. Her parents died when she was very young. At the age of five, she and her twin sister were sent to a convent and hospice, to be raised by nuns.
As a young girl, Juliana developed a deep and abiding love for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. By the time she was 13, her devotion was so deep, she decided to become a nun herself.
When she was still teenager, she had a vision that would haunt her the rest of her life: she saw the full moon with a deep vertical stripe. In time and with prayer, she came to understand that the moon represented the world, the Church on earth.
And the vertical stripe represented what was missing.
In her heart, she believed that what was missing was a feast, just one day, that would be dedicated solely to the Eucharist.
She made it her life’s work to make that vision a reality.
It wasn’t easy. Priests, bishops and her own superiors opposed the proposal. But the Bishop of Liège gradually embraced the idea and, inspired by Juliana’s fervor, established the feast in his diocese.
Despite difficulties and setbacks, Juliana’s love for the Lord in the Sacrament never dimmed. She died in 1258, gazing at the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance in her room.
Though many clergy dismissed her, one influential person did not: Jacques Pantaleon — the archdeacon of a village in Belgium. He saw for himself the fruits of this devotion as the feast was celebrated in Liège. It moved him and inspired him.
In 1261, he was elected pope, becoming Pope Urban IV. Three years later — six years after Juliana’s death, and just a few months before his own death — Pope Urban IV formally established the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.
He asked Thomas Aquinas to compose prayers for the feast — and the result gave us two of the greatest hymns in the Church, Tantum Ergo and Panis Angelicus.
The rest is history. Our history. Yours and mine.
The Gospel we heard a few moments ago tells of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes — a miraculous sign of God’s boundless love and his desire to feed all those who hunger.
In the same way, devotion to the Eucharist, particularly on Corpus Christi, has also multiplied around the world. The hungry are being fed today.
Grace is everywhere.
On this feast, Benedictions take place in parishes around the world. Processions go on in cities, villages, suburban towns. Tantum ergo is sung, incense rises, bells peal. We fall to our knees in wonder and in awe, realizing anew that Jesus Christ is truly present — body and blood, soul and divinity, in something as small and humble as a sliver of bread.
As Pope Urban reminded the world when he created this feast, Jesus himself promised, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”
And so he is.
Today. Now and always.
And we need to proclaim it to the world.
But this feast is more than a proclamation or a procession.
It is a challenge to every one of us.
I end every Mass I serve by saying, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life.”
How do we do that? We do it by becoming living tabernacles, carrying the Jesus we have received in the Eucharist out those doors and into the world.
Last year on this feast, Pope Francis said:
“The procession with the Blessed Sacrament reminds us that we are called to go out and bring Jesus to others. To go out with enthusiasm, bringing Christ to those we meet in our daily lives. Let us open wide our hearts in love … Let us break the bread of our lives in compassion and solidarity, so that through us the world may see the grandeur of God’s love.”
The fact is: Corpus Christi isn’t just one day, one Sunday, one moment on the calendar.
Every day of our lives should be, must be, Corpus Christi.
Every day of our lives must be the day we bring Christ to the world.
We need to bring our Lord into the workplace, the marketplace, the office, the subway platform.
We need to make him present to those who feel he is absent. Especially the marginalized. The anxious. The weak. The forgotten.
Our Lord doesn’t forget. He is with them.
He is with us.
Six hundred years after her death, Juliana of Liège was canonized and became St. Juliana. Yet, she is largely unknown to most Catholics. In death, as in life, she is often overlooked and forgotten.
This day, let us remember.
Remember what she helped do, the feast she helped to give us.
And remember what it all means.
Christ is truly present.
He is truly with us — “always, to the end of the age.”
May we leave this sacred space and take him into the world — holding in our hearts something St. Augustine once put so beautifully: “We become what we receive.”
We are the Body of Christ.
And because of that, the Corpus Christi procession doesn’t happen just once a year.
It happens, in fact, every day.