The Feast of Corpus Christi makes us think about Body, as members of the body of Christ, the corpus—or body—of a poet’s work, the body of evidence, the body that gives us pain and pleasure and presence in the world. All sorts of body. The body that, for the past two days, kept me housebound in pain with arthritis. My friend Betty, who’s 93, is far better acquainted with that affliction than I and far less limited by it. She still drives to Mass each day, attends her weekly Legion of Mary meetings, and makes her visits to shut-ins. But she also enjoys very much the symphony orchestra and attends almost every concert. Whatever our age, our bodies demand of us, give to us, and to some extent are us until this corpus becomes corpse.
You can watch a baby absorb himself in fascination with his toes, see the wonder in his eyes as he realizes that when his fingers succeed in reaching his toes, he can feel the touch. The discovery thrills him, his eyes grow wide as he tries to repeat the experience. Watch the despair in a teenage girl’s face when she looks in the mirror and acknowledges that she is not beautiful, despite all her efforts. She sees her whole life as a failure waiting to happen to her.
Our bodies have astonishing power over us. I think we could sit and count the ways our bodies dominate us all day long and not come to the end of them, as we realize that even the counting, the thinking, is a physical act. The Body is physical, including our hearts and minds, our feelings and thoughts. The body delights and humiliates, limits and empowers. It is physical. Yet … it is more. There is in the body a knowledge of something unnamed, something quite other.
Attributed to Bono: “Religion is what’s left when spirit has left the building.” The limits of one man’s profundity. Well, we all have limits. That’s one of the functions of this corpus—to limit us, our movement, our feelings, our thoughts. We can never, on our own, go beyond the physical, and all things are physical, even Bono. This keyboard in my hands is physical, merely a dead object until I animate it with my fingers. We are all just inanimate keyboards waiting to be touched into life by animus. And so it is with religion, only, unlike Bono, we regard that as the beginning, not as the end.
It is the very essence of our “religion” that we kneel as our priest raises the physical wafer and utters the words that make a dead object transcend its limitations and become the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Christ. When we believe this, as he told us to believe, to remember, we are able to receive that transcendence, that metaphysicality, and become his body, become Corpus Christi; no longer belonging to ourselves, but to him, we are the body of Christ. Amen.