by John Moffat SJ
‘When I was a stranger you made me welcome’.
This year at the end of Refugee week we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. All around the Catholic world, parishes honour the real and life-giving presence of the risen and glorified body of Christ in our midst. But the feast and the liturgies are not just a chance to bask in the warm glow of the glorious future to which we are called. That glorious future is rooted in the realities of a beautiful, but fallen world, a world stamped by love and generosity but also by cruelty, fear and rejection.
The glorious body of Christ is the same body that was brutally nailed to the cross outside the walls of the holy city. The words of loving self-gift spoken at the last supper are the prelude to a day of torture, rejection and death. This is what it means for the God of love to enter fully into our world. God enters into the heart of our darkness, becomes one, not with the rich and attractive, but with those who are objects of hatred, derision and rejection. Only thus can all creation be restored. The Son of God must break through our fatal, human capacities to fear, hate and wound what we do not understand with the power of an undying love.
So we cannot truly celebrate the real presence of Christ in the sacrament without committing ourselves to that other real presence of the Lord on our streets and in our prisons, those without food, clothes and shelter, the prisoners, the sick and, especially this week, the stranger in our midst. Jesus words are as clear as his words ‘this is my body’ from the heart of the Mass: whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.
So we cannot raise our eyes and venerate the Eucharist with integrity, unless we also open our eyes to the poor and the strangers in our midst. We need a new vision: brothers and sisters, not foreigners; fellow human beings, sharing the good things of the earth, not economic competitors; an enrichment to our growing community, not a threat to our way of life. We need to hear Jesus’ invitation to do things differently, to think differently, to find new, creative, more human ways to deal with the suffering humanity on our streets and in our townships.
The Eucharist also reminds us that to belong to the Body of Christ has a cost. The pathway of love leads us to the fulfillment of the resurrection, but it leads through the cross. Opening to the ‘outsider’ means a change of heart that can disrupt other relationships. It can bring misunderstanding and rejection upon us too. If we eat with public outcasts, we risk being treated like public outcasts. But this is where the Lord went, and he asks us to follow him. Here is the heart of our Eucharist.
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