Tag Archives: Body of Christ

CORPUS CHRISTI, 2018

A former World War II GI said that, after jumping off the landing craft, he had to skip and hop to avoid the injured who were moaning on the sand; he had to run carefully around the bodies of the dead soldiers that had accumulated in large numbers on the beach at Normandy that fateful June 6, 1944. I was 13 years old at the time, surely not mature enough to realize the significance of the event.

It was the same GI who told of seeing a 19-year-old soldier get the brunt of an exploding shell and being left with a gaping hole in his hip, its white bones fragmented and jagged, protruding through flesh and skin. “Hang in there. You’ll be OK. They’ll send you back to England and then you’ll be shipped home. The war’s over for you.” And the young man answered with boyish innocence and manly courage, “You know, I didn’t intend to get injured.”

And so it is that we treat the body — the body of our fellow human beings, the body of family and nations and the world, the body of Christ. We maim and we kill, physically or emotionally, to keep the stranger, the different one, away — a much quicker solution than the awkward, challenging struggle toward reconciliation. Kill in the trenches, kill in the streets, kill even in the womb. Do away with the person. Leave a body, a body that cannot dialog, cannot assert itself. There’ll be more space then, more time, for us as bodies are removed.

What a tragic perversion of the mind and heart of Jesus! The body is a reflection of society: one body, many parts, many functions. Not one of them should go unhonored; all are necessary, useful, beautiful in the eyes of their creator. Never should one part, one member, scorn another as inferior or unimportant.

I once received a lovely note from a relative of mine, a young woman, very appreciative of the gift of life, ambitious and hard-working. Her work — she surrounded the word with quotation marks — was that of a bicycle tour guide. Her graceful, strong body had traversed hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles on two continents. She wrote to me, “I feel so fortunate to be able to cycle as my job…sharing a wonderful meal with my group in an old castle in Ireland or biking with them through the olive groves of Toscana, Italy”.

The very day I got that happy, thoughtful message I had been reading accounts of the poor in Latin America and the valiant efforts of the volunteers from other countries who had gone to help save their lives and attain a measure of dignity and justice. What a contrast, I thought, among the members of the Body of Christ. Yet, the plain fact is that that body requires both tour guides and missionaries; it includes the vibrantly healthy and the suffering sick, the rich and the poor, militant activists and secluded contemplatives, light skin and dark skin, males and females, heterosexuals and homosexuals, English-speakers and Spanish speakers, and on and on and on…

Jesus could not have made it clearer that he wanted us to honor all these differences and try always to achieve, not exclusion, but inclusion.

Today, Corpus Christi Sunday, we join all who believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread and wine. But I think that we should not make too much of precisely how he is present in this mysterious sacrament. After all, what is to be gained from our analyzing and theorizing and theologizing when we know that we can never fully understand this pure gift of love? We ought to give ourselves, instead, to the demanding, far more important matter of his presence in the people, how he continues to suffer in them, and hear him calling for our attention, for hands and hearts that can make a difference for the better.

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33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

Because Jesus made it such an important priority in his teaching, we often talk about the spirit of poverty. Is that a myth for us fortunate people who want for nothing essential and have so many comforts besides?

But, short of absolute poverty – of giving away everything we own and then living with only what is absolutely necessary for life — what can we and should we do?

For the past 60 years I’ve been going to the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, sometimes just for a day. I think it’s good for me to expose my mind & heart to the wisdom of men who see the world through the lens of virtually uninterrupted attention to the presence of Jesus.

But my monk-friends’ life of monastic simplicity, of owning absolutely nothing, is not for me; I’m sure of that. My spirit of poverty has to be expressed in other ways. To the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to reach eternal life, Jesus said that his charitable caring for others was enough and then reminded him that there was another option open to him: if he chose to, he could sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him in a special way. It was an option, not a requirement; the young man would know somehow after prayer and reflection whether it was for him or not.

I think that most of us middle class American Christians identify with that rich young man. If that is so, we are left with a requirement that has to be met: Jesus expects us to determine what our stewardship pattern should be, asking ourselves questions like these:

Do we ever do without something we’d like to have so that someone else may have something he or she desperately needs?

Are we generous in sharing the use of the things we own?

Do we in general try to make do with our possessions and not keep replacing them just for the sake of novelty?

Do we make sure that a decent portion of our income, no matter what earning category we are in or what our present needs are, goes to those who are in dire need?

Are we willing to share our time with those who need our attention, even if that is inconvenient for us?

Do we practice good ecology in the use of fuel and food and other gifts of the earth, not merely to save money but to make more available to those who have not enough for a basically human life?

And so on…

The power of the middle class, the power of the Christian community, is in doing good together. None of us can eradicate degrading poverty and provide for millions of our fellow humans. What is asked of us, what is expected from us who say we are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, is to act in harmony with the best efforts of good people everywhere – of whatever religion or nationality. The church will have become fully the Body of Christ on earth when such generous, conscientious sharing is its normal way of life. In the meantime, as we move closer and closer to that goal, each of us who hear the Gospel must act now if we are going to give an acceptable account of our stewardship.

To be a partner with Jesus in providing for others a share in the necessities of life is a work so satisfying and so peace-giving that we will inevitably discover that Jesus calls us, not really to do without, but to gain so much more.

14TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, 2017

A man by the undistinguished name of Robert Kent, who had worked for the same company for 33 years, was given several years ago a grand dinner party upon his retirement. At that celebration, several of his co-workers noted that what they loved and admired most about him was his optimism. In an article in a Connecticut newspaper he wrote, “If indeed I am optimistic, I got to wondering where that sense of optimism came from.”

After noting that the firm had gone through some very difficult times, he went on to say, “I finally concluded that whatever sense of optimism I have comes from my Christian faith. Christianity, at least as I understand it, is rooted in optimism. We are optimistic that God is with us and loves us; we are optimistic about life after death; and we are optimistic that God will be with us in good times and in bad. It seems to me that having a life based in faith leads to an optimistic attitude. Without faith, I don’t know how anyone can be optimistic. One of the reasons I like to go to church is that I meet the most wonderful people there. By and large, they are optimistic and caring people, filled with love and concern for their fellow humans. Each Sunday our faith and optimism are renewed through our liturgy…”

It was the enthusiastic exhortation of this Sunday’s first reading, those few lines from the Hebrew prophet Zechariah, that inspired this homiletic approach and the following commentary.

We celebrate Mass every Sunday not to make installments on a spiritual insurance policy, not to beg God to forgive our sins and wrong-doing, and not because we are required by Church law to do so.

No, Sunday Mass is is simply our time-honored way of thanking God for what we are and what we have, of being renewed & strengthened for the next lap of our earthly journey, and, as St. Augustine so well put it, of receiving more of what we already are.

But what are we? We are the body of Christ in the world of our time & place. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so do I send you.”

When we receive Holy Communion, it is not to be understood as reward for good behavior; it is not essentially an act of adoration we are performing. We are receiving into our hearts, minds, and entire lives more of what we already are – nothing less than the body of Christ! We receive his person, his Spirit.

The question arises then: What does my being the presence of Christ demand of me, do for me? It demands of us that we act in all circumstances as he would have us act. It requires us to be open to the direction and empowerment of the same Spirit that directed and empowered Jesus.

Think about that, please. Let it obsess you. Can you imagine how peaceful, how loving, how beautiful our homes and our lives would be if we were increasingly acting according to his example?

Let’s pray that a wave of change pass through our community, transforming every heart and every home precisely as needed!

CORPUS CHRISTI 2016

We don’t get theological technicalities from Jesus; he speaks plainly, most often in simple stories whose meanings are clear.  From that consistent style of his, we can be sure that he had no obscure theology in mind on the night before his death when with bread and wine he made the simple parting gesture of love, in which he said, “Remember me. And don’t ever forget that I’ll be with you always.”

The essence of that gesture, which has become our Eucharist, is undoubtedly presence: Jesus’ desire and his plan to be with us in a unique way.

Friends and lovers can be present to each other not only when they are face to face, body to body. They can be thousands of miles apart and be really present to each other in many ways.  The sound of a melody, the remembrance of a shared experience, a card or a letter taken from a drawer, a photograph, are but a few examples of how human beings can be present to each other even though they are physically apart.

We Catholics maintain that there is a personal presence of Jesus in Eucharist – not merely in the transformed bread and wine, but in the entire Eucharistic event.

It seems to me that it is no more useful to dissect and analyze this mystery than to analyze any act of genuine love.  Some things are so sacred, so precious, so profoundly personal, that to subject them to microscopic examination is to guarantee that they will not be appreciated.  The words “Body and Blood” are, of course, anatomical in their normal usage.  But in the context of the Eucharist I understand them to mean simply real – real not in the sense of physicality, but real in the sense of sacrament.

When we do this sacred action together week after week, this fluid action called Eucharist, Jesus is uniquely present.  Unseen, yes, but as intentionally and really present to us as he was to his original disciples and apostles, minus the physical, or bodily, elements.

We must content ourselves with that alone and not be distracted by the scrutinizing that goes on in our theological laboratories, which can only do further violence to the uncomplicated plan of Jesus to remain with us, not merely in memory, but in here & now sacramental presence.

I am not aware of Jesus ever asking to be adored, but only to be welcomed and loved in return for his own unconditional love of us.  He invites us to follow him with trust and to accept the gifts he offers.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the remarkable, nearly unbelievable, fact that God, as St. John so graphically put it, has pitched a tent in our midst and made it the dwelling place of Jesus.  This is not God up and out above the clouds; nor is this a deus ex machina, a divinity that enters the human situation occasionally, whimsically, to fix things.  This is the divine presence in the thicket of humanity, scratched and bruised with us, always present, always giving life and hope and peace in the midst of trouble.

When our Catholic lives are over, and while we still have the presence of mind to reflect on their most precious treasures, I believe that we are going to appreciate as never before what our regular encounter with Jesus through Eucharist has given us.  We will understand more clearly than ever before what a source of strength and guiding wisdom it has been for us all along.  We will understand with unprecedented gratitude what he meant when he said he would be with us always.

Corpus Christi — Body of Christ – himself — us.  How else would he have arranged the journey?

 

HOMILY FOR CORPUS CHRISTI 2015

We don’t get theological discourses from Jesus; he speaks plainly, commonly, most often using simple stories to make his meaning clear.  Judging from that consistent style of his, I think we can be sure that he had no obscure theology in mind on the night before his death when with bread and wine he made a parting gesture of love, a way of saying, “Remember me. Don’t ever forget that I am with you always, because you are my friends.”

The essence of that gesture, which has become our Eucharist, is undoubtedly presence: his being with us in a unique and immediately recognizable way.

Friends and lovers can be present to each other in ways other than physical.  They can be thousands of miles apart and yet be present to one another.  The sound of a melody dear to both, the remembrance of a shared experience, a card or letter taken from a drawer, a photograph, a familiar place: these are examples of how human beings can be present to each other even though they are physically apart.

We Catholics maintain that Jesus is uniquely present to all who seek him in the sacrament of Eucharist. 

It seems to me that it is no more useful to dissect and analyze this mystery than to analyze any act of genuine love.  Some things are so sacred, so profoundly personal, that to subject them to microscopic examination is to guarantee that they will not be appreciated.  The words “Body and Blood” are, of course, anatomical in their primary, conventional usage, and therefore inevitably suggest a kind of cannibalism.  But in the context of the Eucharist I understand them to mean simply real – real not in the sense of physicality but real in the sense of sacrament.

When we do this sacred action together week after week, this fluid action called Eucharist, Jesus is uniquely present.  Unseen, yes, but as intentionally and really present to us as he was to his original disciples and apostles, minus the physical, or bodily, elements.

We are left to content ourselves with that alone and not be distracted by the scrutinizing that goes on in our theological laboratories, which, I maintain, can only do further violence to the uncomplicated plan of Jesus to remain with us, not merely in memory, but in here & now sacramental presence.

Jesus does not ask to be adored, but only to be welcomed and loved in response to his own unconditional love of us.  He invites us to follow him with trust and to accept the gifts he offers.

The popular bumper sticker urges us in another context, “Keep It Simple.”  We would do well to apply that advice here as we contemplate and honor the risen Jesus in Eucharist.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the remarkable, nearly unbelievable, fact that God, as St. John so graphically put it, has pitched a tent in our midst and made it the dwelling place of Jesus.  This is not God up above the clouds; nor is this a deus ex machina, a divinity that enters the human situation occasionally, whimsically, usually to fix things.  This is the divine presence in the thicket of humanity, scratched and bruised with us, always present, always giving life and hope and peace in the midst of trouble.

When our Catholic lives are over, and while we are still able to reflect on their highlights, I believe that we are going to appreciate as never before what our regular encounter with Jesus through Eucharist has given us.  We will understand more clearly than ever before what a source of strength and guiding wisdom it has been for us all along.  We will understand with deep gratitude what he meant when he said he would be with us always.

Corpus Christi — Body of Christ – himself — us.  How else would he have arranged the journey?