Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Body and Blood of Christ

Jesus was crucified because of the company he kept and the people he ate with. Eating together is a significant human activity. Stories and lives are shared. Relationships are renewed and strengthened. We are continually reminded that God is social, a God of relationship. Any spirituality or theology that disconnects us from the concerns of the world and contemporary social concerns should be dismissed.  And Eucharist begins and ends in a relationship. It reminds us that God is not a distant entity that we need to go out and find but is invested and incarnated in our lives.

As I often repeat, God does not touch us in a vacuum but touches us through others and material (sacramental) moments where we are always to be in relationship. God's presence to us also implies a demand to be in communion with Jesus’ lifestyle, which Paul touches on when he asks, ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?’ It must have been shocking when Jesus said to his listeners, ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life’. It should shock us as well as we listen to his words with new ears and try to understand with new and open hearts; as we strive to take in his teaching, his vision, his sentiments, his passion, and his values; where his thinking becomes our thinking; his dreams our dreams; his vision our vision. We become Jesus for the world.


The Eucharist is not a spectator sport. We participate in the body of Christ when we break the bread. We participate in the blood of Christ when we drink from the cup. Living into this reality means participating in and saying yes to that relationship over and again, and modeling the relationship God offers us to everyone around us. It means going beyond our views of who fits and does not fit; who is lovable and who is unlovable. Pope Francis is fond of telling us, and causing upset to some more traditional, legalistic Catholics when he does: ‘the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.


Today’s feast calls for ever widening circles of inclusion. It may cause hatred and resentment when it involves being in solidarity with the victims of the world. It raises questions when so many people starve and die of hunger, die of loneliness, suffer, and die due to all kinds of violence and neglect, or are excluded in any way because they do not qualify. Former Jesuit Superior General, Pedro Arrupe said, If there is hunger (injustice, inequality, oppression) anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere in the world.’ Taking and eating the bread of life has consequences for us if the physical and spiritual hungers of people become more present to us.


The Eucharist is trivialized when used to determine a person’s worthiness or used to erect more barriers between people. It amounts to putting Jesus in the tabernacle where he is worshipped but is not connected with humanity. The eucharist is trivialized if we cannot see Christ in babies born and unborn; if we cannot see Christ in the children born to families that we dismiss and stereotype as ‘broken’;  if we cannot see Christ in a person considered a nuisance because of their race or the family they come from; if we cannot see Christ in a refugee or a family terrified of the police; if we cannot see Christ in enslaved people and the descendants of slaves or sold for profit. That goes for every person murdered by racist cultures. It is Matthew 25 over again. However, when we see glimpses of humanity, where people come together ready for action, we see glimpses of ‘eucharist,’ glimpses of sacred presence. This is when people respond to the cry of the poor and cry of the earth with compassion, when people advocate for human rights and human dignity. Our coming together means seeing the world as Jesus does. It means allowing ourselves be broken open to allow the world in and touch its scars. Our celebration must make us agents of God's justice and mercy for a world hungry for food, dignity, esteem, healing, forgiveness, freedom and acceptance. We are the Body of Christ. There is no other. We are bound together. We are called to be on earth, the heart of God, as we approach the Feast of the Sacred Heart this week.


St Augustine said ‘become what we receive’ when we celebrate the eucharist. We become Christ's loving and healing presence in this world. More and more, we need to expand the idea of neighbour. Pope Francis has echoed this call in his exhortations. The eucharist must do this for us. The various social, economic, environmental crises we face interconnect and overlap. If these do not enter our thinking and acting, then we lose something of the real meaning of the Eucharist we share.  


Clearly, as the eucharist makes Jesus present in our midst – it must be a ‘yes’ to love, life and God and a ‘no’ to violence. It must expose injustice, inequality, and all forms of psychological, spiritual or physical violence where it exists. Jesus’ rising from the dead is God’s definitive declaration as to where God’s preferential option lays. St Paul reminds us that ‘though many, we are one body’. If we take our understanding of solidarity a little further, it is that ‘if one member of Christ's body suffers, all suffer’. We need to move from individualism to interdependence. This interconnectedness with all living things is not abstract, but concrete. It may be that our participation in the Eucharist ought to create a great sense of unease about disunity, discrimination, hypocrisy in the Christian community and society in general. The Gospel today leaves us in no doubt that God’s presence wants to be made concrete in what is human, and human action, where change comes with challenging and replacing systems of injustice.


Jesus broke bread with the disciples and said, ‘Do this in memory of me,’ reminding us to be the body of Christ in the world. Many today reject as outdated ideas of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘real presence’. This could be a mistake as it seems to reject Jesus’ teaching about the unity of all creation - something needed more than ever - as we are confronted with threats to the Earth and all living things. Jesus’ fundamental teaching was the unity of all life, that all life is one. It was something uneducated people and children were able to understand. It has been at the heart of the life and culture of Indigenous people in all places. All of us are God’s daughters and sons. Differences between us are only apparent. In a sense, there is really one of us. We are all Jesus. God has only one Son - and it is us. What we do to and for others we literally do to and for ourselves. This profound teaching is easy to grasp but difficult to live out.


Jesus expressed this in terms of bread – loaf made up of many grains. What Jesus called ‘the one loaf’, Paul calls the one Body of Christ. The Eucharist is a moment for ‘remembering’- recalling that we are one wherever and whoever we are, but is also about ‘re-membering’ where there is healing, reconciliation and acting in a concerted way that reflects the life and presence of Jesus amongst us. This is a counter-cultural challenge to the individualism, ethnocentrism, and violence that reflect ’dis-membering’.



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