The Body of Christ

Antonio, P. Pueyo
Reflections for Sunday
Feast of Corpus Christi
May 29, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

A little girl just made her First Communion. After the mass, her mother took her aside and asked her, "Do you believe that the bread you received was the Body of Christ?" The little girl answered "Yes, I believe I received Jesus, but was that really bread, Mom?"

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi - the body of Christ. Every time we say, "Amen" as we receive holy communion, we affirm this mystery of faith that the Sacred Host is Jesus Himself. For the little girl it takes more faith to affirm that the thin tasteless wafer was bread. The bread we take is not just a symbol of Jesus, or a representation of Jesus. At the last supper, Jesus said, "This is my Body". He did not say, "This represents my body". In the Gospel we have read, Jesus said, "The bread I shall give you is my flesh" (Jn. 6:51).

For those who find it difficult to believe, the Lord allowed miracles like that in Lanciano, Italy where the sacred host dripped blood when it was consecrated by a doubting priest. The relic is still there. Most of us cannot go as far as Lanciano to see such empirical evidence. Although faith may be strengthened by miracles, faith does not depend on such evidence In many of the Lord's miracle stories, faith is the precondition for miracles.

The mystery of the Eucharist as the body of Christ hinges on a prior mystery, that of the Incarnation. Jesus was able to give us His flesh to eat because first of all He was the Word who became flesh and who dwelt among us. God who is omnipotent and infinite chose to become weak and vulnerable when He joined the human condition. God did this because of love (Jn. 3:16).

God became embodied in Jesus and Jesus offered up His body on the cross and continues to feed us with His body which is the Eucharist. This is the theological basis for what we may call an embodied spirituality. Embodied spirituality may seem to be a contradiction in terms, if we take a dualistic approach that opposes body and spirit. However, there is no other way to live the spiritual life in this world but as human beings in the flesh. If we understand spirituality as "living under the guidance of the Spirit" then this life in the spirit is exercised as embodied persons in the world. We do not see souls or spirits working in farms, offices and factories. What we see are people in the flesh trying to live the spiritual life.

The history of the Church has seen the pendulum swing between two extremes of regarding the body. On one hand is denying and even despising the body for being material. This was the position taken by the Gnostics who were condemned as heretics in the early centuries of the Church because they denied the true incarnation of Jesus. On the other hand there is the obsession with the body and all its sensuos delights. Its ancient proponents were the Epicureans, and in this post-modern age, finds its champions among contemporary hedonists. This materialist attitude is aptly described in Madonna's song, "I'm a material girl living in a material world."

If the Christian position is somewhere between gnosticism and hedonism, how then should we regard the body? St. Paul writes that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19). Therefore, he advises "Glorify God in your body" (v.20). The Christian does not despise the body nor worship the body. Just like anything else in the world that God created good, we regard the body as a gift to be used for the glory of God.

It was also St. Paul who gave a new twist to the phrase body of Christ, "You are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor 12:27). He likened the Church to the body where "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (v. 26).

As the Mystical Body of Christ the church continues Christ's work of giving life. The ticket to glory is feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. (Mt. 25:35-36). In this week's news, UN Food and Agricultural Director General Jacques Diouf said that the number of hungry people had gone up over the last decade. "Our latest estimates indicate that 852 million people worldwide were undernourished in 2000-2002," he said. The main cause for world hunger according to the UN is war. We can see from this that beside directly helping the hungry through donations of food and money, promoting peace is also indirectly an act of feeding the hungry.

Today as we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, let us celebrate the gift of life. It is to give life to the world that Jesus became flesh (Jn. 10:10). By the wounds of His body we were healed and restored to life. The Church as Mystical Body received its commission from Jesus to continue the Lord's life-giving presence in the world, a world where despite its technology, hunger still abound. We are able to do this because we are sustained by the sacramental bread which is the Body of Christ.

As action starters we ask ourselves: