The Bodies of Christ (Not a Typo)

Brian Flanagan

Today’s scriptural reflection for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is from Brian Flanagan, an Associate Professor of Theology at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Brian’s research focuses on ecclesiology, liturgical theology, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. His recent book is entitled Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church. As an undergraduate student at Catholic University, Brian was an intern at New Ways Ministry from 1996-1999, and he now serves on New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board.

Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.

Over the past 14+ months of the Covid-19 pandemic, Catholics around the world have been separated from the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, and from the Bodies of Christ in so many other ways. But if we celebrate today’s feast by focusing only on the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, we might miss some of the richness of the Body of Christ in our lives.

Why do we need the Eucharist anyway? Well, because the “original” Body of Christ, that is, the body of Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of Mary, who spoke and ate and drank and hugged his friends, who was crucified and buried and rose again – that Body is currently absent. Believing in the Ascension of Christ means, in part, that Jesus, after time with his friends after Easter, went to be with God, from where he will return to complete the great work that God started in the Incarnation. This is all in the creed, obviously, but perhaps in the parts where we begin to zone out a bit.

Theologians through the centuries have talked three forms of the Body of Christ – the historical body of Jesus of Nazareth, the sacramental Body received in the Eucharist, and the ecclesial body, the “Mystical Body of Christ” that is the Church. The interpenetration of these three forms of bodily are intimately, crucially (pun intended), connected. And just as Jesus’ absence after the Ascension requires a new form of presence through the Eucharist, so too does that absence require – and provide the space for – the new form of presence that is the Church, the People of God who are the Body of Christ in the world.

During this pandemic, many of us have been deprived of physical contact with the Body of Christ in both the Eucharist or the People of God. Other forms of communion have continued, and for this we can be grateful for the technologies that made them possible. But in a strange way, at least for me, watching the celebration of the Eucharist online while being physically absent from the table accentuated that distance even more – making the absence of the Body of Christ even more obvious. I also felt the absence of that Body in the People of God — the gathered assembly through whom so often Christ has spoken to me, challenged me, embraced me.

Receiving the Bodies of Christ again feels to me like coming home to a warm supper after a long day on the road – it’s not just the food, but the family around the table, who make it the regular, perhaps underappreciated miracle that it is.

What does all of this mean for LGBTQ Catholics? So many LGBTQ Catholics have told me they joined the Church because of the Eucharist, and many explain that this is the reason they stay. Most who have left have said what they miss most is the Eucharist. At a deep level, the Eucharist makes sense for many LGBTQ Catholics because their encounters with the Bodies of Christ make sense. Our identities as LGBTQ folks and our experiences often highlight our bodies – the bodies we love in the case of those of us who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and the bodies we are and sometimes struggle with for those of us who are trans.

For me, one of the small mercies of being a gay man has been freedom from some stereotypically masculine behaviors that privilege isolation and frown on physical affection between friends. For me being a gay man hasn’t been only about sex, but about daily, embodied signs of peace and love – hugs, kisses, and embraces that go beyond norms that try  to limit our physical affection. That experience isn’t limited to gay men, but for many of us the freedom to openly embrace the people we love, regardless of their gender or gender expression, was a cardinal freedom of our coming out process.

And so in the last year, the lack of physical expression has been for me another absence of the Body of Christ, felt as keenly in daily life as well as in the lack of the Sign of Peace at Mass. Perhaps in our return to “normalcy”, whatever that will be, we can remember, and help the wider church to remember, some things that LGBTQ folks have been saying from their experience for a long time . The first is that bodies matter. Coming out as queer and daring to take pride in one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not an act of trivializing the body or misusing it, as some have wrongly suggested, but of taking our bodies, and the bodies of those we love, seriously. The pandemic has shown all of us, queer and straight alike, how much we experience the world and each other in and through our bodies, which is a lesson I hope we remember in those places where the immediate threat has passed.

LGBTQ folks also help the church remember that our bodies have the potential to be sacraments of Christ. While LGBTQ Catholic don’t have a monopoly on this dynamic, I think that the fidelity of queer Catholics – to the church and to each other as romantic partners, as friends, as additional or surrogate families – points to the truth of the Body of Christ in the world. Whether it’s in a Eucharistic procession today, or a group of Catholics marching in a Pride parade this month, both potentially show forth the love of God in Christ that make him present and active in this world until he comes again.

Brian Flanagan, Marymount University, June 6, 2021

 

2 replies
  1. Mary M Doyle Roche
    Mary M Doyle Roche says:

    Brian, you and your ministry are a gift to the Church and all who know you. Though my abstinence from one table continues, I am nourished by another real presence. Peace.

    Reply
  2. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    The Bodies of Christ (Not a Typo)

    These words of your reflection were very meaningful to me for the reasons stated below. They have given me a new appreciation to the Mystical Body of Christ—the Church.

    “[I]f we celebrate today’s feast by focusing only on the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, we might miss some of the richness of the Body of Christ in our lives
    […]
    “During this pandemic, many of us have been deprived of physical contact with the Body of Christ in both the Eucharist [and] the People of God.”

    I can testify to the latter. I am a gay man who was widowed in 2010. Gradually, I have come to live as an openly gay man, including in the Church. One fellow parishioner in the mystical body of Christ recently lost his wife. The two of us support each other. We discovered that we have missed each other. As things are getting back to a semblance of normal, we embrace the importance of our friendship in the Mystical Body of Christ.

    Reply

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