This Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This solemnity is an opportunity to reflect upon the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharistic bread and wine. By extension, this Solemnity reminds Catholics of the Church’s vocation to be the Body of Christ in and for the world together with all Christians and in solidarity with all people of good will. This theological concept can feel irrelevant. It is often reduced to a transaction or, worse, a magic trick performed by the Holy Spirit, and most Catholics have disregarded this aspect of faith. At its best, this belief calls us to reflection on our human bodies.
How can Catholics reclaim a belief in the real presence in a way that speaks words of hope and love as a protest against the structures of sin today that abuse, violate, and denigrate bodies?
As I prayed with this Sunday’s readings, I meditated on all the ways in which bodies are denigrated through racialization, sexual abuse and violence, and body shaming, or because of differing ability, who we love, or gender identity. I forced myself to look at my own body in the mirror. I looked at photos of friends and their bodies.
The real presence is God’s response to the ways in which bodies are denigrated, violated, and objectified. It is God’s response to the ways in which I have been taught to hate certain aspects of my own body. In protest, God continues to make Godself incarnate in the world today.
As Church, the real presence calls us, personally and collectively, to bear witness to and with those who suffer physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma because of how dominator society regards and treats their body.
Eucharist means thanksgiving. And it is for bodies that we, ultimately, give thanks. We do so despite a Church and society that falls short of these aspirations. We honor in a special way all bodies who share the fate of Christ’s body, humiliated and abused for the threat they pose to structures of power. The real presence is thanksgiving for Black bodies, Indigenous bodies, differently abled bodies, gay bodies, trans bodies, and bodies of all shapes, sizes, and hues. My body; your body. In offering a sign of peace, we approach one another in our bodily particularities and express our common kinship. In breaking bread, we nourish and care for our own bodies and for each other’s bodies. Today, take a moment to thank God for all the ways you are beautifully made, imago dei.
Ed Sloane is originally from West Virginia. He serves as the board chair for the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and received his Ph.D. in religious education and pastoral ministry at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. His writing focuses on approaches to education in faith through the lens of ecological justice and place-based learning. Ed is also a high school theology teacher.