Today, we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate the absurdity of Christ’s work - that he took on our flesh and became our food. And our gospel reminds us that Christ gives us not just spiritual food but also corporal food. He fed his crowd spiritual food - teachings about the kingdom, but also bodily food - he offered them loaves and fishes because they were hungry. This gospel account shows us how spiritual work can never be separated from corporal work. They are perfectly one in the same - Jesus’s spiritual miracle of multiplication is the corporal work of feeding the five thousand. When the five thousand share the little bit that they can, Jesus gives himself to fill the gap, transforming scraps it into an abundant feast. And as we eat the flesh of Christ, we become what we receive. We become Christ’s hands and feet and are tasked with continuing his work on earth.
This task of discipleship feels daunting today in a world that is plagued by an overwhelming amount of violence. It can be comforting to look for the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, but do we also look for the Holy Body and Blood of Christ in our neighbor? Whose bodies do we fail to honor as holy? If we are to follow the example of Christ, we cannot separate the true, holy presence of Christ in the Eucharist from the true, holy presence of Christ in our neighbor. Who around you is hungry? What are they hungry for? What are you able to share with them?
And what about when we fail? Because we will fail. Our limited, finite bodies cannot do it all. We have just marked the two-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd. Millions have died of Covid. War rages on in Ukraine. In Phoenix, Arizona, where I am spending my summer, thousands suffer in the heat without shelter, without water, without consistent food. The vast darkness in the world can feel so overwhelming. What shall we cling to?
During World War I, soldiers who did not understand why they were being asked to fight and die would sit in the trenches and sing this song: “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here.” The song was a lament of the absurd meaninglessness of it all, a lamentation that there is no answer to the age-old question of “why?” This song is still sung today, and paradoxically, as the song is sung, it becomes a proclamation of radical presence and solidarity. There may never be any answers to the tragedy of war, violence, and evil, but we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. Today, as we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, we proclaim that not only are we here, but Christ is here, in the bread and the cup, in our neighbor, in us. In the face of meaninglessness, being here means something. Christ meets the absurdity of violence with the absurdity of real presence.
And so that is what we can cling to, as war rages on and death continues around us, we can cling to real presence: in bread and the cup, in each other. In our second reading today, Paul reminds us that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” We proclaim that Christ is present, living and dying in each person affected by war, poverty, racism, and violence. And we lament this. We proclaim our own complicity in this senseless sin. But, as we accept the grace of Christ’s body in our Eucharist, we do not let sin get the final say. What an absurd faith we have - a faith that proclaims the transformation of such simple bread and wine into an expansive mystery of darkness, death, grace, and gift. A faith that God is present in our food - that God is present in us.
And so, in the face of darkness, we can remember these mysteries. We can continue to offer the little bit that we are able to - food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, a listening ear for a friend who is struggling, forgiveness to a neighbor - corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Sometimes all we can offer is presence - the proclamation that we are here. We can sit beside a friend who is suffering, we can continue to offer prayers for those affected by violence, near and far. We can continue to show up, and when this presence might feel meaningless and hopeless, we can remember this story where Jesus took the little bit that we could offer and filled the gap, multiplying it into more than enough. We proclaim that Jesus can transform even death and darkness. We can cling to the hope that Jesus can do so again. This is our faith. How absurd. How beautiful.
Jenny Wiertel is a Master of Divinity student at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a B.S. from Georgetown University, where she helped found a community of small faith sharing groups and developed a passion for ministry. She has served in a variety of ministry roles including campus ministry and hospital chaplaincy. During the academic year, she serves as an assistant rector in Pasquerilla West Hall at Notre Dame (Go Purple Weasels!) where she lives alongside 250 undergraduate residents. In this role, she provides pastoral care, preaches at liturgy, directs retreats, coordinates community service, and most importantly, empowers students to become leaders in their community and in their Church. She has spent two summers living and working with those experiencing homelessness in Phoenix, AZ at Andre House of Hospitality, a ministry inspired by Holy Cross spirituality and the Catholic Worker movement. Jenny is passionate about amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized in our Church and in our world, and she hopes to use her Master of Divinity to continue to preach, accompany, and serve.