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.