The other day, while watching a group of mourning doves feeding at a park in the cemetery where I was walking, I had a revelation of sorts. I noticed that the birds traveled as a flock, and then they arrived, they swooped down from the bushes that line the property and like a unit, they began eating the seeds in the lawn. When one of them started cooing, the whole group joined in the song. And when a sudden noise came from behind the bushes, they just as suddenly flew off as a group.
It struck me that birds are like humans in that way: we, too move through our lives in little groups. Some of my little group are now buried in the cemetery where I was walking, preparing to have Mass in their memory. We all have our groups. Sometimes it’s the group of people with whom we work, or share common interests, like making pottery or visiting art museums. Sometimes our age determines who is in our group, especially when we are younger and have little appreciation for the wisdom and strength gained by living beyond 30. A lot of criticism has been leveled against us humans for traveling in these groups, including the accusation that we are merely trying to escape the existential reality of our cosmic aloneness (Jean Paul Sartre and the existentialists) or that we thereby surrender our independent thinking and become part of the herd. Certainly, these are possible pitfalls, but there is something more to it.
Our moments of triumph are made more glorious when shared with the group; so too our grieving is made more tolerable when we accept the reality that we are not alone. Sometimes the group is able to keep us moving forward when we ourselves cannot. To completely abandon the group, all groups, is virtually impossible in this life, and that’s because we’re wired for relationship with others.
Today’s Feast of the Body of Christ refers to both the Eucharist as well as to all those brought together in Christ. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we not only proclaim Christ’s suffering and death, but also his resurrection, his transcending of all limitations, including death itself. That’s why we Catholics are insistent on having not only crosses, but crucifixes—to show the crucified Jesus in the moment of his deepest humiliation and pain. We do this because it is through our own suffering and transcending of limitation that we come to our own resurrection. Eucharist celebrates both realities: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus and the suffering, death and resurrection of all of us who are part of the community gathered in his name.
We can take that one step further: We proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of the world. In so doing, we also affirm that we ourselves are the way, the truth and the life for the world. Our baptism in Christ has incorporated us for all time and eternity into the family of Jesus, and so close is our identification with Christ that when God looks down upon the world and sees the group gathered and integrated into Christ, he sees only the Body of his beloved Son.
Lastly, not only do we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Living
Bread given for the World. We also proclaim that we, Christians
world-wide, are bread given for the world. Our calling is so huge, so profound, and yet if we break it down into little pieces, small daily actions, we see it’s not so impossible or overwhelming after all. It requires some vigilance, however, to insure that we don’t get sucked into the negativity and judging that sometimes seems to surround us.
As the Body of Christ, we bear within ourselves responsibility for becoming beacons of light for those who grope in the shadows.
We can choose to become a ray of truthfulness when we find ourselves in a cloud of gossip or judgment. We can choose to be a sign of creative life, even as we experience sorrow and loss, even as we say goodbye to those we love, entrusting them and ourselves to the loving embrace of God. We can decide to become the clear running waters of
acceptance and understanding, even when we are in situations where others cling to rejection and ignorance.
After all, Jesus came to become all of these things to the people most rejected and despised, so we, as the Body of Christ in the here and now are also called to become all these things. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes we struggle to even be nice to those who mean the most to us, let alone strangers with whom we have no emotional ties. Why is that?
St. Benedict, writing in the 6th century of the Common Era, says it all comes down to humility. No, I don’t mean the kind of humility that impels us to give in to others, believing ourselves to be so unworthy that we can barely lift our heads in public. Real humility is simply a measure of the self that is taken without exaggerated approval or exaggerated guilt. Humility is the ability to see ourselves as God sees us and to know that it is the little we are that is precisely our claim on God. St. Benedict writes that it is humility that is the foundation of our relationship with God, our connectedness to others, our acceptance of ourselves, our way of using the earth’s resources responsibly, and even the manner in which we walk through this world: without arrogance, without domination, without put-downs, without having to have control, without ego. The more we know ourselves—our very real frailty and dependence on God as well as our dignity as the Presence of Christ in this world—the more gentle we will be with others. If that isn’t a recipe for world peace, I don’t know what is.