Boats, Borders, and the Body of Christ

Sunday after Sunday we march in line with our sisters and brothers to receive the Body of Christ. In many churches, the Blood of Christ is also made available to us. Yes, we receive the real presence of Jesus. What a gift for our God to come into our lives in this sacramental manner.

In addition to receiving the gift of Jesus in Holy Communion, we are also expressing our identity: We are the body of Christ. St. Paul (1 Cor 12:27) affirms this along with the great tradition of our church: We become what we celebrate. I remember, from my earliest days in Catholic school when we first learned the responses at Mass, asking about one in particular. What is the word that heals us when we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”? Although this expression has been changed slightly with the recent release of the Roman Missal, it is reasonable to think that God will say something to us to heal us or make us more acceptable for his Son to come into our lives in such a full, complete, and intimate way.

After we announce this statement of unworthiness, the next words spoken in the ritual of the Mass are “The Body of Christ” as we receive the sacred host. Is this expression the word that heals? Perhaps we are healed, made whole, and prepared to receive Jesus because we hear our name, and we affirm our identity with our “Amen” at communion.

In the Eucharist, we renew the rich grace of our baptism, which affirms our central identity as a child of God, disciple of Jesus, and brother and sister to all. The implications of our Sunday worship, wherein we assert—again and again—our primary identity are vast. They may also be challenging and threatening.

Seeing the current plight of the Syrian refugees, we are sickened that anyone is exiled by such evil injustice. Images of Nazi Germany, the Rwandan massacres, and African enslavement are tragically recalled. As Americans, we know our freedom is certain; we will never suffer such indignities. No one ever should. Yet, as members of the Body of Christ, we are called to stand in solidarity with anyone whose dignity, life, or safety is in question.

As we receive and stand in Holy Communion, our sisters and brothers, whether in Aleppo or at the El Paso, Texas border, become our responsibility. Children in our nation’s underachieving schools emerge as much of a priority for us as those who study in our parish schools. The drug-addled homeless youth whose disease has separated her from her family now beckons our prayers and rivets our attention in ways similar to the cancer that surges through the body of a loved one.

Our discipleship and our primary identity as Christians, members of the Body of Christ, modulate our justifiable national pride, preventing it from becoming a nationalism that precludes a compassionate response to our neighbors in need, regardless of their homeland. Our faith informs this vision of justice: “Our citizenship is in heaven,” as St. Paul again tells us (Phil 3:20).

As we prepare to celebrate the awesome feast of Christmas where a refugee family gives birth to its son, who is the savior of all of humanity, let us pause and pray in solidarity with those countless people who struggle to find food, shelter, safety, and love. The vulnerable and infant body of Christ, born in a manger, is gracefully and mysteriously the Body of Christ we receive and ascribe as our name in the Eucharist.

St. Francis de Sales preached on Christmas Eve in 1613: “The most sacred Virgin is that morning star which brings us the gracious news of the coming of the true Sun” (The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, 1987, p. 53). Indeed, we all live under the same stars, and we are all loved and created by the same God. Let us rejoice in our shared humanity as the example of Mary, mother of God, who gazed at the newborn face of Jesus, moves us to see his face in those whose Christmas smiles are challenged by poverty, disease, or war.

May the little body of Christ who warms us at Christmas inspire us to warm others chilled by injustice, long after Christmas ends.

Merry Christmas!