Tuesday, June 2, 2009

6-10-2007: Corpus Christi (C)

Genesis 14:18-20/Psalm 110/1 Corinthians 11:23-26/Luke 9:11-17
Religious illiteracy is more widespread than you might imagine. In a recent survey of one hundred Catholic twenty-somethings most thought Corpus Christi was just a town in Texas, having no clue to its import as signifier of the great mysteries of Incarnation, Eucharist and Church. Don’t be surprised though. A few years back the U.S. government wanted to name a new submarine, complete with nuclear missiles, the Corpus Christi – after the town in Texas, one supposes, and not for the Body of Christ.

It’s no coincidence that the term Body of Christ applies both to the bread and wine that becomes the body and blood of Christ at every Mass and to the Church, the communion of those baptized into Christ and linked one to another in an invisible yet eternal bond. Receiving the Eucharist means to come into holy communion with the Lord’s body which in turn brings us into a holy communion with other bodies, revealing our solidarity, in joy and sorrow, with all humanity.

I’m reminded here of a little known memoir by Brian Power. The son of Irish Catholic parents, Power grew up in the China of the 1930s. Among the many glimpses he gives us into his displaced life is his poignant experience of receiving his First Holy Communion in Notre Dame Catholic Church in Tientsin – a place name which, in translation, serves as the title of his book -- The Ford of Heaven.

“I did not think or feel anything,” Power writes of his communion day. “Instead, a sensation of belief overwhelmed me. This sensation filled me with a happiness which no thought or feeling had ever done, and I remember hoping it would never end.”

But it quickly did. When he left the church compound and turned the corner of the Banque de l’Indo Chine he saw a Chinese man and woman with a young girl about his age. Sickly thin, their bare feet caked in mud, they made up part of China’s endless reservoir of peasants. The woman was staring at the ground while the girl sat beside her whimpering. The man looked about wildly and, grabbing his daughter by the wrist, cried out to all who passed: Will you buy? Will you buy? Having nothing to eat, they were trying to sell their daughter. “That night I knelt at my bed,” Power wrote, “and tried to recapture that sensation of joy I had felt upon receiving my First Holy Communion, the Body of Christ. But I could only see the man selling his daughter on the street.”

In the end it doesn’t matter if we know the literal meaning of Corpus Christi or not. But it does matter, immensely, whether we are open to the experience of solidarity -- communion with others, and with the Lord himself, in joy as well as in sorrow.

On today’s Feast of Corpus Christi we are reminded that it is no coincidence that we use the same words to describe the Eucharist and the Church: both being the Body of Christ; both, holy communions with the divine; both, mysteriously, invitations to ford heaven.

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