“…a body you have prepared for me;” Hebrews 10:5c
The stretch toward home in this season of Advent has begun. The home is the remembering of God coming among us in the body; God embracing human nature in full. Home too is the Heaven we approach; the fullness of the promise given us in Jesus Christ the Son. The Word Made Flesh has made a home in the body so that our bodies may have a home in heaven as sons and daughters of God.
Jesus comes to us as a child born in time and made vulnerable to our condition. He offers his flesh to fight sin and its’ effects. Death is the great enemy, but not even death can hold God. Joined to Him, His victory over death becomes our victory. His means of conquering is by the loving offering of Himself in the body. In the womb of the Virgin Mary He became man and was made visible to the adoring shepherds in the stable at Bethlehem. Bethlehem means “house of bread”. Before dying and rising Jesus walked and preached and healed the brokenness of others in visible signs, healing the bodies of the sick and those in bondage to evil spirits. He also multiplied food and finally on the night His Body was handed over he gave us the Eucharist as food for our bodies and souls to prepare us for the eternal reunion of body and soul at the resurrection of the dead. This food sustains us as we offer our bodies in the power of supernatural love in worship of God and service to those who are broken; those who long for healing presence.
As we approach the joyful days of Christmas and the resolutions of a new year let us remember the gift of the body and the possibilities it offers us in making a more generous offering of our lives. St. Paul took as the principle image of the Church, the Mystical Body where Christ is head and we are members working together in Him, animated by His Holy Spirit. We therefore, unite our offering to His supreme offering to the Father. However weak we feel in our bodies we may make an offering in love united to the loving Christ; knowing that in Him our offering bears fruit. We believe in God who creates out of nothing and brings life out of death.
I remember the birth of my first nephew and how awesome it was to see such a little person who could not speak or walk or do much except be there. What a joy! Looking at that baby I thought, “Wow, God became like this.” Shake your arm, walk, kneel and pray, smile, cook and eat, fast, speak, look and see, listen; the son of God did all these same things and more so as to reach us and love us, to be present to us. Even amidst the pain of the cross he was present in mercy bleeding, yet forging ahead in love to show that love is stronger than death and that it is in the body that we love.
The desire of our hearts is to see the face of the other, to contemplate that face in love and to see love looking back at us. The Church reads in her Office of Readings, during Advent, a homily of St. Peter Chrysologus in which he recognizes the desire to see God’s love, embodied, even among the pagans of old: “Even the pagans made their images for this purpose: they wanted actually to see what they mistakenly revered.”
Remember our mothers suffered to give us life and then worked out of love for us. Our fathers too worked in care for us, many long hours and for many to the point of arthritis. Men and women have shed blood in combat for our protection. We do the same for our children, we offer our bodies. In the Visitation, Mary, after having heard of her Cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, made haste to travel and assist the one who was the mother of John the Baptist. The presence of Mary, Elizabeth, Jesus in the womb, and John the Baptist in the womb, all united in the Holy Spirit, was a cause for leaping and song, for embodied joy in physical presence.
In these past weeks I have been edified also to see priests offering their bodies for their people. I have seen your pastor Fr. David pushing a snow blower, heard from two different priests about their carpentry projects, and known of others traveling to Advent penance services and to visit the homebound. Our bodies in motion bring Christ to others. There are others too, whom we do not hear about, but who are known among the saints. Their bodies are broken and they offer this suffering to God for the good of others.
Recall the song about the drummer boy who thought he had nothing and the medieval story of the Juggler of Notre Dame. The drummer boy played for the Christ Child and the juggler gave a performance at a shrine of Mary, each offered in love his physical talent. In these stories of holy imagination we hear an echo of the sinful woman who quietly washed with her tears the feet of Jesus, wiped them with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with costly perfume. Jesus took her action as a preparation for the burial of His Body and because of this she would be recalled wherever the gospel was preached. More than words then is the power of presence, meeting and ministering to one another in the body.
As we celebrate God’s Incarnation, His flesh taking, to be with and feed us, let us renew our consciousness that he is present to us and resolve to be present to Him and others. Our tech gadgets may be connective tissue of communication, but are not in themselves full presence. Our resolutions can look to our bodies as a locus of renewal for the sake of presence: to know the comfort of sacramental confession and the power of Eucharist received, to rest on the Sabbath, to be quiet and more gentle, to maintain our bodies by good diet and exercise so as to love better, to pray in them, to be present to spouse and children, to deny ourselves so as to say yes to being more present and available for sharing the joy of love’s mystery, to see another’s physical distress and respond, to sing, whistle, and look upon beauty, to endure suffering without complaint, to feel pain and to glance at the crucifix, to see others in various conditions and tempers and know that the Precious Blood was shed for them, to be with Him where He has allowed us to be with Him now—present in the present, and to know that we will rise again, glorified! In all these and many other ways we embrace the One who has first embraced us.
St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended to those under his care that they frequently recall the last time they received the Body and Blood of the Lord and to think about the next time they will receive that same Body and Blood. The Lord’s Body given is for our bodies, ourselves, that we too may be, with him, gifts–presence. This is the unity, the communion, of God’s sons and daughters. As our bodies, nourished by His Body and Blood, move in love and worship we can repeat to ourselves the phrase of Pope St. Leo the Great,read in the Christmas Liturgy of the Hours: “Christian remember your dignity…”–dignity because God has resided in our flesh and transforms it still even while making use of it to carry others.
“Father, I offer you my joy united to the joy of all your saints. I give you the joy you have given me because you have allowed me to witness in my flesh the depth of the mystery of Love manifested through, with, and in the Body of Christ Jesus!” In this hope we await the fullness to be revealed. His mystery present in our bodies with soul becomes our oxygen, our atmosphere, our exercise in which we live and move and have our being—in which we are Home present in the presence of God.