When I was seven years old, I asked if I could become a Catholic. What captured my heart and imagination at such a young age was the Eucharist; the idea that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ was physically present here and now in our midst. The celebration of Corpus Christi has held the devotion of the faithful since the feast was instituted in our liturgical calendar in the 13th century. Given that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our life, this should be no surprise. However, the power of this feast to motivate us toward transforming our world is often hidden amidst the ritual of this devotion. This celebration holds personal significance for me not only as a Norbertine priest, but as a social worker as well.
Our tradition’s understanding of the Body of Christ is centered in our sacramental encounter, but it does not stop there. We speak of the mystical Body of Christ as the Church, as the assembly of baptized believers. We also see the presence of Christ clearly defined in our tradition as in those experiencing poverty, oppression, suffering, and marginalization. We hear this from Christ himself in Matthew 25: “whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” This sense of the presence of Christ has also been strongly emphasized by saints and mystics over the centuries, from John Chrysostom to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Our sacramental experience of the Body and Blood of Christ is just the beginning. It becomes the window that moves our hearts and minds to yearn more deeply to know that same Christ who not only gave himself for us, but desires to be taken in by us so that we may come to share most deeply in Him. The pageantry, ritual, and exaltation of the presence of the Holy that we see in our liturgies, processions, and adoration surrounding this feast are what express for us the honor and dignity to be shown toward God’s tangible presence in our midst. This should open our eyes to then want to seek that presence in all of life—in the community we know to be Christ’s mystical Body, and in those who seem to be at the peripheries.
When I find myself struggling to respond with compassion, patience, or mercy in my ministries, I come back to the Blessed Sacrament. I remind myself of what it is to encounter our Risen Lord in a clear and knowable way. From there I can go forth, and remember that that is the same Lord I am encountering in my sisters and brothers in Christ, and in those I serve—be it formally as clients in an agency, or simply those in need who cross my path.
More so than my individual interactions, to encounter the profound unity that Christ calls us to as members of his Body, inspires me to see injustices, discrimination, and oppression not just as social ills but as violence against the will of God. If we wish to live the dignity of the sacrament we celebrate so fervently, then we must struggle to overcome the divisions and fractures that exist within God’s family.
When we come to know the power and majesty of Christ in the Sacrament, we come to see more clearly the imperative to uphold that same dignity present to us through those who suffer. When we can come to respond well to one another in our needs, struggles, and injustices, we come to see more clearly the Body of Christ who we are formed to be through Jesus’ self-gift to us on the altar.
Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem. is a member of the Norbertine Community of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque New Mexico. He currently serves as the Coordinator of Program Development, Evaluation, and Research for the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Reflect further on Christ’s presence in the Church community, his body with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ series on Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples.