The Black Body of Christ

This week is the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi, a liturgical celebration instituted in 1264, after the Miracle at Lake Bolsena, when a priest doubtful of the reality of the sacrament of the Eucharist witnessed the bread that he had consecrated begin to bleed onto the linen corporal. The sacred relic is now preserved in a chapel of the Cathedral of Orvieto. Perhaps this feast is most known to worshipers today by the hymn, Sing My Tongue the Savior’s Glory composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas for the feast.

Chapel of the Corporal, Cathedral of Orvieto, italy

Corpus Christi is Latin for The Body of Christ, which has a twofold meaning of the sacramental presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist and the wider presence of Christ in all humanity. The feast day comes at the end of the Easter season and follows Trinity Sunday as reminder that the most intimate expression of dialogue between God and humanity is God become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who, though sinless, experienced all there is in human experience, even death. God’s union with humanity, unites us all to God’s divinity. This is the great revelation of God in Christ.

Cope made by the Dominican sisters of Stone, Staffordshire. The photo is by Brother Lawrence, O. P., on Flickr.

Racism gives the lie to this basic tenet of the Christian faith. Christians living and acting as if any human life is below the full dignity bestowed on us in the mystery of Christ is a betrayal of faith. Christ is not so much the Good Samaritan as Christ is the wounded victim found by the side of the road. Black lives matter especially today because they are the prophetic locus of God’s presence in the world. The Cummins Institute spring lecturer in 2012, M. Shawn Copeland, recently retired from Boston College, addressed the Christological meaning of minoritized lives in her book, Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience (2018).

[Jesus of Nazareth] is the clearest example of what it means to identify with children and women and men who are poor, excluded, and despised; to take their side in the struggle for life – no matter the cost. Through his body marked, made individual, particular, and vivid through race, gender, sexuality, religious practice, and culture, Jesus mediates the gracious gift given and the gracious giving gift. His incarnation, which makes the infinite God present, disrupts every pleasure of hierarchy, economy, cultural domination, racial violence, gender oppression, and abuse of sexual others. Through his body, his flesh and blood, Jesus of Nazareth offers us a new and compelling way of being God’s people even as we reside in the new imperial order. [1]

Times of social unrest and the heightened awareness of the unbearable burdens of others that make the lives of the privileged so easy, call everyone to take sides. Where will we stand? Where is the Church found these days?

Pastoral staff, Vatican City, Sacristy of the Sistine Chapel

Today’s reflection in the monthly Missal, Give Us This Day, features the life of John Howard Griffin, who was born on June 16, 1920. He was a White man who witnessed what every White person is called upon to do in the face of racism – to speak and stand with Black people and all victims of oppression. Griffin’s words, now sixty years old, need no interpretation. The following passages are from Black Like Me (1961).

No one, not even a saint, can live without a sense of personal value. The white racist has masterfully defrauded the Negro of this sense. It is the least obvious but most heinous of all race crimes.

I, too, say let us be peaceful; but the only way to do this is first to assure justice. By keeping ‘peaceful’ in this instance, we end up consenting to the destruction of all peace – for so long as we condone injustice by a small but powerful group, we condone the destruction of all social stability, all real peace, all trust in man’s good intentions toward his fellow man.

A law is not good merely because the legislature wills it, but the legislature has the moral duty to will only that which is good.

The Negro. The South. These are the details. The real story is the universal one of men who destroy the souls and bodies of other men (and in the process destroy themselves) for reasons neither really understands.

What mattered most, and still matters most, is the difficulty white Americans have in feeling what it is to be the Other.

John Howard Griffin and Sterling Williams, in New Orleans, from Black Like Me

Griffin walked with Blacks struggling for justice in the troubled times of the 60s and 70s. Again in this moment in America there is no more visible presence of God than in the lives of Black Americans, especially in the life of George Floyd and the other recent victims of racist oppression lifted up by the widespread national protests. What better place for White Christians to be at this time than with Black members of the Body of Christ.

The mural, located on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, is the work of artists Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, and Greta McLain. The group started working on the mural on Thursday morning and finished it within 12 hours with the help of artists Niko Alexander and Pablo Hernandez. Lorie Shaull is the photographer. The photo is on Flickr.

  1. Shawn Copeland, Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience (2018), quoted from www.google.com/books/edition/Knowing_Christ_Crucified

photo credits: Brother Charles; Brother Lawrence, O.P.; Black Like Me; Lorie Shaull

4 thoughts on “The Black Body of Christ

  1. Brother Bernie says:

    This reflection is so challenging and yet for me a wonderful new insight relating today’s reality to the Body and Blood of Christ. The challenge for me to hold both the beauty of the world and the pain that is so evident.

    Like

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