Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Corpus Christi: 2015

This is my Body

What an odd thing it is to keep a festival in honor of a body. The only reason that it does not seem odd to us is because it is the most ordinary and obvious and everyday thing we do: bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. But this emphasis on the body is not the attitude of most of the world religions and in the history of the human race it has been a minority position. The notion that man is spirit and that his body is an encumbrance has been the dominant view. Time and time again human beings have sought in pure spirit a release from the thick odors of the body, its incessant demands, and the misery of living with it. Eastern religions teach techniques of denying the body so as to escape the prison of the body. Plato and his followers saw physical reality as merely a shadow of the real spiritual reality. For the Gnostics flesh was a burden which weighted down the soul. All this is still quite fashionable: just consider the modern dogma that spirituality with its flights of imagination and freedom is to be preferred over religion with its demands of observance and precept.

With this dogma comes another: all religions are the same.  It is not actually true. You really cannot imagine the world religions celebrating a fest of the body. But you cannot read much of the New Testament without tripping over the hard fact of the body and it is often the case that the body comes up just to correct a false understanding of the spiritual in opposition to the physical.

In the New Testament and throughout the Catholic tradition 'Body Of Christ' is understood in three distinct but related ways. First, the body of Jesus stresses the full humanity of the Incarnate Son of God. He was formed in his mother's womb, was born and grew. He used his body to heal bodies. He bodily touched the untouchable leper. He walked through the villages and fields of his native land. He ate and drank. He hungered, he was wearied suffered, was tortured, murdered, died and bodily buried. He rose from the dead not in some merely spiritual way but gloriously in his body which still bears the marks of his passion.

The second use of the Body of Christ  is to refer to the people  who embody the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in this world. . He, the living Lord, is the Head of his Body the Church. By baptism every Christian is given the serious vocation of embodying of Jesus in the place, situation and time of their own life. Through their human bodies they are to make present his kingdom and reveal his presence. It is was St. Paul who gave us this phrase ‘the Body of Christ’ the Church and he did so precisely because there were folks who did not care much for body  and rather went on and on about spirituality.

What is true of the individual is even more also true of the Body of Christians under the Headship of the Risen Jesus. Every parish, has the on-going duty of being an embodying of Jesus in a  particular place and at a particular time. It is the uniqueness of each Christian life that is essential in the building up of the Church and the fruitfulness of its mission.

But how can we live up to such a calling unless we were constantly nourished by Jesus himself? Hence the third use of the phrase 'The Body - and Blood - of Christ' refers to the celebration of the Eucharist, the very heart of every Christian community. 'The Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist'. Whereas other food is eaten so that it becomes us, with this food which Jesus himself gives us we become Him because it is Him we are receiving.

At the heart of this communion is the sacrifice of Calvary, the broken body and shed blood of Christ's love for the world. The sacrifice of Calvary cannot be repeated because it has not ceased in its power. It continues to throb through every atom of creation and every second of time. But Jesus' priestly work continues. He is the Eternal Priest and the Everlasting Victim. In the sacrifice of the Mass we repeatedly re-enter into his self-offering to the Father. In the prayers around the consecration we place our prayers of thanksgiving and of petition for the living and the dead into his one Calvary Prayer. Within our worship of the Body and Blood of the Lord present on the altar, we place our own self-offering of our Christian bodily life.

So all three meanings of the Body come together. That same Jesus we read about in the gospel stories gives himself to us so that we might become him and members one of another in the Blessed Sacrament.

The guru may hate his body, the Platonist mistrust his bodily sensations but the Christian takes heart from the fact that the Word was made flesh, that our life now and in eternity consists of our being members of His Body and that because in the sacrificial meal he left us we become what He is.

This is my Body.

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