Each year as summer gets underway, Catholics transition through a series of feasts honoring the Body and Blood of Christ, our Blessed Mother, His Sacred Heart, her Immaculate Heart, the Holy Spirit, and Holy Trinity. I hope that these mysteries prompt us to ponder our faith a little more deeply.
On the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus (formerly Corpus Christi), we get reminded that our teaching of transubstantiation (that the ordinary elements of bread and wine change into the extraordinary body and blood of our Redeemer) sets us apart from most other religions. Shocking to many of us who tended not to question ecclesial teachings while growing up, studies reveal that many Catholics—some research claims most—don’t personally believe it. There are additional beliefs that further distinguish us from other religions, e.g., the exalted role of Mary as Mother of God, the importance of saints as spiritual heroes, a structured sacramental and hierarchical system, the equality of Tradition with Sacred Scripture as the two major pillars of God’s revelation, unique prayers and the centrality of Eucharist. According to data, there are other foundational teachings, beyond transubstantiation, that Catholic members also don’t uphold, e.g., that Jesus is God, that abortion is murder, that there is an afterlife for each of us.
It is important for us to know what we believe. Those firmly rooted in a belief system are more likely to make moral decisions with clarity; they are better anchored to good ethics and less apt to sway with the winds of changing societal customs. What we believe may not be as important as who we are becoming or how we impact others but it does help to define us and direct us. Sometimes we can discover what we believe on our own but usually it is helpful to talk it over with others.
As it regards Corpus Christi and what it means for us to participate in the Body of Christ, we have to make a determination. Either it is or it isn’t what we say it is. If it isn’t, we are all fools for gathering around it, kneeling before it, prayerfully adoring it, and reverently receiving it. But if it actually is Jesus’ body and blood, we have to allow it to transform us, too; and because we receive and embody it, we have to transform our surroundings, our society. But it’s not so much about what we do as what we allow to be done to us and through us. Like the virgin of Nazareth, we’ll find communion with God if we let it be done to us according to His divine will.
Our modern times in our blessed nation of freedom does not present us with daily brushes with martyrdom like that faced by the first Christians. Though our faith community is important, our coming to church to see friends should not outrank our willingness to go into the world to help strangers. Sharing in the blood of Jesus has less to do with getting in line for communion to sip some wine as it does with getting in line at the community blood bank to save a life, or donate time to help a kid learn to read, or hold the hand of a lonely, dying, nursing home resident sacrificing her decrepit earthen body for the hope of a glorified one. Sharing in the sacrifice of Christ is tied to the sacrifices that good parents make for their children, good teachers make for their students, or good civil servants and social workers make for those they protect and aid. If it truly is the body and blood of Jesus, it has to impact us, work within us, make us better people, make us more like Him. I don’t know how much of it is God acting in us and how much is us responding to His grace. Though not full of grace like Blessed Mary, we are given godly benevolence.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, I invited parishioners to contact me if they’d like to discuss their views which deviate from those of the church in a setting that is non-threatening or judgmental. I got several takers. They value the church’s rich history, well thought-out and time-tested teachings; they respect magisterial roles and admire great church leaders. Yet one thing they clearly value more is the message and mission of Jesus who touted compassion over law, a culture of encounter instead of rigid rubric, walking with outcasts rather than judging them. They want, so badly, for church leaders to be bold and present themselves as representatives of Christ rather than defenders of an institution that sometimes denies, betrays, and abandons, as His disciples did—as we all do. As the Disciple Thomas taught us, doubt is not the opposite of faith but can be a step to greater faith.
Faith matters. If you are interested in talking about these or other matters of faith, know that I would be glad to do so. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.