Reflections on Corpus Christi Sunday
Because Eucharist is first and foremost the celebration of the divine hospitality made present to us in the person of Jesus, it is an action which addresses every form of inhospitality in our world, confronting it with the image of what might be and ought to be.
. . . At its simplest level of sharing of food, the Eucharist signals that in God’s world there is room for all. We are therefore challenged to solve the problems of the world by sharing, not by eliminating . . . We are called upon to ask ourselves what it is we are celebrating in the Eucharist if we are willing to exclude others from God’s hospitality to the extent of considering [them] expendable.
[Jesus] chose quite explicitly and deliberately to right the wrongs of society not by killing others but by a non-violent challenge which made him vulnerable to the point of his own death. It is this that we celebrate, and it is this that we are invited to share: the conviction that there is a better way than war and force, and that is a way of truth, community, dedication, compassion, and self-gift.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, and one of the reading at the liturgy I attended this morning with the St. Stephen’s Park House Community was the above excerpt from theologian Monika Hellwig’s book, The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World.
I was quite moved by Hellwig’s articulation of the meaning of Eucharist and the profound implications of this meaning. Eucharist, says Hellwig, is “first and foremost the celebration of the divine hospitality.” Accordingly, “in God’s world there is room for all.”
A different message
Two weeks ago, however, I and over fifty other people received a very different message at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Why? Because we were wearing a rainbow sash, a symbol that proclaims we recognize and celebrate our lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) sexuality as a gift from God. Wearing such a symbol ensured that we were scoldingly informed (twice!) by the presiding priest that there was no room for us. We were denied participation in the Eucharist. We were excluded; effectively eliminated as people of conscience and as believers capable of helping the Church develop and grow toward the fullness of divine truth.
And don’t think for a moment, my friends, that such development and growth isn’t possible, or that we as LGBT Catholics cannot and do not have a role to play in such development and growth. For as the Vatican II document Dei Verbum reminds us: “Growth in the understanding of the realities” [of our developing tradition] . . . happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, . . . through the intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience.” And like our heterosexual brothers and sisters, we LGBT people can and do experience our sexuality and its expression in profoundly spiritual ways.
The preaching of the clergy has its role in the development of our Catholic tradition as well, of course. Yet notice how Dei Verbum, this foundational document of Vatican II, places the understanding of believers before the preaching of the hierarchy. This ordering has been interpreted by many as signifying a momentous development in the Church’s self-understanding and in its understanding of divine revelation. (It’s a development that, to my mind, recognizes and accommodates in a much more intentional manner that “better way” of Jesus identified by Hellwig and marked by “truth, community, dedication, compassion, and self-gift.”)
Yet sadly, there are many, especially within the hierarchy, who have chosen to resist or even deny this change, this development. As a result, we are experiencing great tensions and problems within the Church.
Monika Hellwig reminds us that Jesus challenges us to solve the problems of the world not by eliminating, excluding, and killing others, but by sharing. If, for instance, we could but share more equitably the resources of the world, just think of how problems such as hunger, war, and terrorism would be lessened, perhaps even resolved.
In a similar way, I strongly believe that Jesus challenges us to solve the problems of our Church, not by eliminating and excluding others (thankfully, killing others is no longer an option!), but by sharing with one another. For example, I believe that if we could all be allowed to openly share our experiences of God in our lives and relationships then the teachings on sexuality that exclude and hurt so many would change and expand so as to embody the life-giving wisdom and compassion of the entire Body of Christ.
Our teachings would become ones informed by and reflective of inclusion rather than exclusion; they would reflect, in their formulation and articulation, the “divine hospitality” we celebrate today, Corpus Christi Sunday.
For this to happen, of course, the members of the hierarchy would need to be open to listening to the stories and experiences of God’s presence in the lives of all – including the lives and experiences of LGBT people.
At the national and international levels of the Church, such listening on the part of the hierarchy is yet to take place. For instance, in preparing and writing its 2006 document, “Pastoral Care Guidelines for Those Ministering to Persons with a Homosexual Orientation,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops failed to consult a single LGBT person. (See the previous Wild Reed posts, When Guidelines Lack Guidance and Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay).
Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, my experience at the cathedral two weeks ago leaves me feeling that listening to LGBT persons is beyond the capability of many within the hierarchy of the local Church. Also disheartening is the message being sent in recent months by the chancery that dialogue about LGBT issues will not be tolerated either on Catholic property or in the pages of the archdiocese newspaper.
Yet I remain ever hopeful, valiantly hopeful, in fact. After all, Jesus promised us the Spirit, and I believe and trust that this Spirit of transformation is working throughout the entire Church. I believe that it is ceaselessly working to transform the members and the structures of our Church so that they become living embodiments of divine grace, guidance, and hospitality; living manifestations of God’s world where, as Monika Hellwig reminds us, there is “room for all.”
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Better Late Than Never
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Listen Up, Papa!
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ” – Reflections on the Eucharist
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part II)
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part III)
Donning the Rainbow Sash
My Rainbow Sash Experience
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Truth About “Spirit of Vatican II” Finally Revealed!
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 1)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 2)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 3)
Recommended Off-site Links:
In Memorium: Monika Hellwig - Woodstock Report (November 2005, No. 83).
Goergetown University Theologiam Catholic Activist Monika Hellwig Dies - Patricia Sullivan (Washington Post, October 6, 2005).