Language of the Body

(Homily for Corpus Christi, Body & Blood of Christ)

Many young people have shown an interest in something called the "theology of the body." It came from a surprising source. Pope John Paul II dedicated a series of Wednesday audiences to an extended commentary on the first three chapters of Genesis. He examined the meaning of the human person based on the fact that God created us male and female. The pope explained that God gave us a language much deeper than words, the language of the body. We communicate ourselves as man and woman - a communication which makes possible the greatest act of self giving, reserved by God to marriage: "For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and the two become one flesh." (Gen 2:24)

I know young men who have studied John Paul's theology of the body and, in doing so, developed a deep reverence for woman as woman: a unique image of God. That reverence motivated them to live Jesus' teaching on chastity - namely, that the physical expression of sexuality belongs only in marriage. In some cases, it prepared them for a beautiful, faithful marriage. Sometimes it became the foundation for a vocation to the priesthood.

The theology of the body holds the key to our debate about the meaning of marriage. In response to those who would make the union of two men or two women equal to the union of a man and woman, we have naturally focused on procreation and child-rearing. That is clearly true, but there is something deeper: the language of the body. Even those who beset with same-sex attraction cannot escape masculinity and femininity - that we are made male and female.

The theology of the body has much to say about the meaning of marriage. It also helps illuminate today's feast: Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. During the past two Sundays we have focused on how Christ communicates himself through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. In addition he wanted to have an ongoing physical presence. For that reason, at the final meal before his death, he took bread, blessed it, broke and give it to his disciples saying, "This is my Body."

Now, we have gotten used to talking about the "Body and Blood of Christ." The words can roll over us without evoking any image in our minds. A word without an image lacks power. The first reading helps to correct that. It gives a graphic picture of Moses opening the throats of young bulls and collecting their warm blood in bowls. He then splashes several gallons on a stone table and sprinkles the rest over the Israelites, gathered according to their individual tribes. Some people wince when I sprinkle them with a few drops of holy water. Imagine droplets of animal blood coming over you.

This image of blood, shed and sprinkled, stands behind our reading from Hebrews. Only now the Precious Blood of Christ replaces the blood of animals. It is a sacrament, a mysterious sign, but it is still a physical reality. The wine becomes his Blood, the bread his Body. We do not notice it because the materials used retain the "accidents" - the taste and texture - of wine and bread. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit transforms them into a new substance: the true Blood and true Body of Jesus.

Most of us - myself included - only dimly realize what a great treasure Jesus has given us. In one of the Eucharistic Prayers, we pray that "as we receive...the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may we be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace." Every blessing and grace. Like you, I have many wants - and I pray for different things: recovery of health, safety, protection for some friend, the resolution of some pressing problem. But on our altar we have the source of every grace and blessing. The Catechism explains it this way:

"What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh "given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,"229 preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death, when it will be given to us as viaticum." (1392)

It is not an accident that Jesus gives himself to us as food. He means to sustains us, to keep us going, by his own Body and Blood. For this reason the Second Vatican Council teachs that "The other sacraments, as well as with every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are tied together with the Eucharist and are directed toward it." (PO 5) The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus is heart of our Church, the heart of our lives as Christians. It is the most powerful language Jesus can speak to us - the language of his very Body. Let us today give thanks to God for so great a gift.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Corpus Christi - Year B):

2015: Through Him Week 1: A Dynamic Presence
2012: Afflicted with Hunger
2009: What Have I Given You?
2006: Language of the Body
2003: To Worship His Body and Blood
2000: Combatting Impatience

From Archives:

2015: Through Him Week 1: A Dynamic Presence
2014: Like Someone Dying of Hunger
2013: Eucharistic Coherence
2012: Afflicted with Hunger
2011 Corpus Christi Homily: Afflicted with Hunger
2010: Why Do I Have To Go To Mass?
2009: What Have I Given You?
2008: Who May Receive Communion?
2007: Our Daily Bread
2006: Language of the Body
2005: Reverence for Eucharist
2004: Communion for Kerry?
2003: To Worship His Body and Blood
2002: Broken Bread
2001: The Eucharist Makes It Through
2000: Combatting Impatience
1999: Notes for Homilist
1998: This is My Body
Jesus: True Bread of Life (How to Receive and Reverence the Eucharist)

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