The story is told of a little girl who woke up in the middle of the night startled and afraid. She ran out of her room to seek comfort from her parents. The mother held her daughter and reassured her everything was OK.
They walked back to the girl’s room and turned on the lights to see that all was safe. The mother tucked the girl back into bed and kissed her. She said, “Honey, you don’t need to be afraid. God is here with you in this room.” The child replied, “I know God is with me, but I need someone here who has some skin.”
We humans are sensual beings who experience the world through our bodies. God created us this way and takes our nature seriously — so much so that our central Christian belief is that God became human flesh in Jesus.
The Christian Scriptures use the term “Body of Christ” to refer to three things: the historical body of Jesus, the body of believers known as the church and the Eucharist. All three are the real presence of Christ and each is an expression of God’s Word becoming flesh in our world.
Despite this truth about the Body of Christ, we still have many struggles with our bodies. We live in a consumer society that constantly gives us messages that tell us we are not enough. There are attempts to divide the physical from the spiritual, and our souls can become alienated from our bodies. We can objectify our bodies and abuse them. We can neglect the truths and lessons our bodies try to teach us.
When Jesus came among us as a human person, he spent much of his time healing bodies. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus healing sick bodies, poor bodies, bleeding bodies, leprous bodies, possessed bodies, paralyzed bodies and dying bodies.
The healing of Jesus included the relief of symptoms, but it also meant the restoring of persons to themselves. It meant reconciling persons to the community. The healing of symptoms also meant the healing of persons. Faith in the real presence of Christ saved them in the deepest sense. The ministry of healing bodies was so important that Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment is based on how we offer real presence to the sick, the poor and the outcaste.
Before Jesus ascended, he left us his body and blood in the Eucharist to nourish our bodies and our souls. It is said that the Eucharist makes the church. It is the Eucharist that can heal our divisions and bring us to communion with the Trinity and with the world.
The Eucharist sends us forth into mission to be the real presence of Christ in our world. It is a mission that heals bodies and restores spirits. It is a mission that seeks forgiveness and upholds life at all stages.
Responding to Jesus’ call
Living in this world as members of the Body of Christ means being the real presence of Christ — a presence that heals.
There are so many opportunities for us to respond to Jesus’ call at the Last Judgment to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, visit prisoners and bury the dead. These corporal works of mercy extend from our homes to our local community to the ends of the earth.
In our world where so many bodies are harmed due to greed, envy, lust and disregard, let us be the Body of Christ, bringing real presence that heals bodies and restores persons. We are one body, one spirit in Christ.
Deacon Mickey Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.