The Feast of Corpus Christi, The Body of Christ.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, The Body of Christ. A little brief history to put it in context what happened to create this feast day. In 1263, a priest by the name of Peter of Prague was on his way to Rome. He noticed that many, including himself, were having a faith crisis believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. So he decided that a pilgrimage would help strengthen his belief in the mystery of the Eucharist. He stopped in a town called Bolsena and while he was saying Mass in the Church of St. Christina, he witnessed the consecrated host bleeding over his hands and onto the corporal. He presented his corporal and story to Archbishop Jacques Pantaleon who eventually instituted the feast day of Corpus Christi before his election as Pope Urban IV. This feast became an opportunity to process through the towns and hold the Eucharist up high for all to see the real presence in hopes to renew faith in a time when faith in real presence seemed lost.
A week ago I was invited to Wyoming Public High School in Grand Rapids Michigan to speak at an award ceremony that is given to 6 students who were honored and selected based upon three criteria that had nothing to do with academic excellence or athletic or musical skill. Students were nominated based upon how kind, compassionate and generous a student was to others. The students couldn’t just put a name in the hat. They had to write at least one sentence why they are nominating this person. My thought was since this was a public school they were just doing this to bring order or allow those who get lost in the shuffle to be recognized. I didn’t understand the effect this award program has had on the students and teachers of this public school. I also didn’t realize they put their names on a banner in the gym next to those who won state titles for athletics.
I was really nervous because I wasn’t able to mention God, Jesus, my Catholic faith, or any other religion for that matter. My whole speaking and musical career has been centered in my faith. So I was a like a fish out of water but I accepted this engagement because I’ve been saying forever the mission of the Church is outside the walls of the church. So when I was presented with this opportunity I took it as a God sending me outside my comfort zone. Be careful what you ask for you just might get it.
The morning of the event I was brought into the library to meet with a group called: “Stories of Us.” This was a group started just for young people to tell their stories of life. One young man told me he moved to the U.S. when he was 13 or so from the Dominican Republic where they had little electricity growing up. He said they had to go on Monday with two buckets to fill up with water to use for the week. This young man has become the Valedictorian of his class and is on a full ride to the University of Michigan. Another spoke of seeing his parents murdered in front of him in Burma and he was put in a refugee camp never to see his family again. So many stories I was told that moved to tears.
I had never witnessed such a group in any school. It was in these stories of great suffering that I was awakened to the reality that just because someone doesn’t acknowledge God, doesn’t mean God isn’t present or acting in their life or in the world. At Wyoming Public High School I witnessed real people with real problems who had to endure real suffering and the only way they made it through the struggle was through their real faith where God was really present working through each person who aided them in overcoming their real struggles to survive.
I have been under the impression for a while that we are having a faith crisis in the world. Just like Father Peter of Progue in 1263, I struggle because I see how many are leaving the church and their faith behind. Many don’t believe the church is relevant in their lives. Many people don’t believe Christ present in the Eucharist because they can’t accept what they don’t understand. Many see the church as a place that divides us instead of unites us. Father Peter needed that bleeding host to renew his faith and he shared his story so others may come to believe in the Body of Christ. I have found through my encounter at Wyoming Public High School, not the Body of Christ bleeding from a host, but the broken Body of Christ bleeding and then healed through faith in God who is really present and dwells on the margins with those who suffer the most.
After my encounter at Wyoming, I’m not so sure we have a faith crisis as much as we have a misunderstanding of what is meant by real presence. If an award for being kind, compassionate, and generous, basically being really present to each other, can change one school in one small town, what effect could we have on the world if we believed what our Catholic faith teaches us: we gather as the Body of Christ, to receive the Body of Christ to go forth to the Body of Christ to do one thing: to love and serve the Lord by loving and serving one another and being really present. If this award were being given at your school or church, would you be nominated?