When I walked the Camino de Santiago, I survived on a steady diet of ham sandwiches and beer.
I subjected my body to a pack that weighed more than was healthy for my frame, moved my feet over miles of terrain, felt my muscles fatigue and my flesh blister and bleed.
Every day, somewhere along the trail, I’d join other pilgrims for lunch. I’d order slices of the flesh of some other animal between bread, slobbered with mayonnaise. Between gulps of beer, I’d chew. But I never felt satisfied. I was constantly famished from the exertion of the pilgrimage, from the challenge of bringing my body closer to a holy place.
Imagine you were violently attacked and dropped off a balcony into a dark alley, and somehow you survived. Your body is broken, bloody, mangled; you are twisted and contorted into a mess upon cracked asphalt. Your arms and legs are shattered. The most private parts of you have been violated. All of your muscles ache as if they are being stabbed with a thousand spears.
You are gasping for life, for help. You feel all alone. You are helpless. You see no way out.
This broken body is yours. It is everyone’s who is a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The horribly broken, disfigured, wounded, twisted and mangled Church. The Church is the Body of Christ and we are the Church; we are the broken Body of Christ.
This body, the broken and disfigured and hurting body, is the Church that I have dedicated my life to as a Franciscan Sister. This is the body I love. I would not be me without my participation in this body: at this point, I can’t imagine my life in any other form.
And, when all the wounds are festering, infected — when it is apparent that this body is disfigured and ugly — it is only appropriate for each of us to struggle. To lament. To feel violently angry. To weep. To demand change.
The wounds of the body of Christ — the Church that I love dearly — have been exposed over and over in my lifetime. They first appeared when I was a college student and falling in love with the body, when I was being fed and experiencing a sense of belonging in its arms. And now, again, within the past week, when the results of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation into sexual abuse and cover-ups became public, it has become visible to the masses how truly sick and broken this body is. It can be an ungodly sight, too awful to look at that. So ugly that a temptation nudges me to turn away, to decide that I can’t be part of it, that I want nothing to do with it, that it simply hurts way too much to be near the brokenness, the festering wounds.
But I can’t divorce myself from the body to which I belong. And, I know that the body cannot heal or become strong again without tiny little me being a part of it, either.
I am disgusted. The corrupt state of my body is due to the failure of those who are meant to be representatives of its head. Made sleazy by power and sickened by an evil that twists the sacred and holy — sexuality, service, sacramentality — into demons of torture and doubt, these men have damaged the body that helps me know meaning and belonging.
And for other members of the body, their pain is greater than anything I could know. They have been made powerless by those in power, they have been tortured by those who were supposed to be instruments of healing and peace. No attempt to make things right by any other member of the body will ever be an adequate response to their pain. Their voice of courage is a gift of hope to the rest of us. My chest aches with the sorrow of loss as separation is inevitable.
The body is likely to remain permanently disfigured. I don’t know how I could ever defend its goodness and beauty to the little ones again — to the members who have been hurt the worst; to those who have lost their faith and trust that the body is made for healing, not harm. They have every reason to argue with me if I try to teach them that the body is good and holy. I wonder if the body will ever be strong again, but I can’t stop thinking about how the body is made whole only through its weakness. The agony of paradox is disorienting and frustrating right now.
Except, somehow, below all the pain and misery is a feeling that is deeper and stronger than any other: I still love this body. I do believe in its goodness, its holiness. I know that many —most — of its members are willing to love to the point of self-sacrifice, they are willing to lay down their lives for their friends and enemies. Joy and love radiate from the face. A mercy flows from the wounds. Compassion runs through its still beating heart. Its lips are uttering constant prayers for forgiveness, for help, for reconciliation and peace.
Eventually, grace can uplift the body and help it from the concrete. But it will take a lot of work and repentance, a lot of restructuring and consideration of what caused the body to get to such bad shape. It will take a rescue from the Holy Spirit and all the angels and saints, before it goes off for a stint in reconstructive surgery and rehab. No matter how the recovery process goes the scars will be ugly; the body will forever wear the history.
Those days are a long way off, I am afraid. For now, we pause to admit the truth. We are broken and disfigured. We need help and healing. Much must change. But for now, the body is broken. The body is weak. The body is a mess of struggle. And it’s awful.
If you see child sexual abuse, have a reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse or your child has been sexually abused, call 911 or your local police immediately.
If you suspect abuse, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or visit the Child Help Hotline. Trained crisis operators staff the lines 24/7 to answer your questions. If necessary, they will show you how to report in your local area.
This week at Sunday Mass I had a full-body prayer experience that transcended the ordinary.
I am Catholic. Full-body prayer is nothing unusual; it’s basic Catholic functioning. Stand, sing, sit, listen, sing, listen, speak, kneel, stand, shake hands, sing, walk, eat, drink, kneel, sit and stand. Through the rhythm of movements, our hands, feet, mouths and throats embody the mysteries of our Incarnational faith. Even as we sing, speak and breathe, the core of our bodies vibrate with words of love and hope.
This past Sunday, though, my body tuned into a communal woundedness. It was as if, in a way, I could feel in my bones an echo of the laceration that had been inflicted upon my brothers and sisters during the massacre in Orlando a week prior.
Certainly the mass shooting that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12 was a complex atrocity. The narratives of our nation’s political battles are…
“She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.” – Mark 5:29b
I’ve never noticed this phrase before. But a few days ago during Mass these words shouted at me. The woman with the hemorrhage reached out bravely to touch just the hem of Jesus’ cloak and she was healed. She didn’t have to think about it. She didn’t have to be examined. She knew it directly and immediately in her body.
I am emerging from a long period of struggle where dullness and flatness ruled my days. Joy suddenly has flesh. I feel in my body a buoyancy right in the center of my chest which I tentatively name physiological joy. Anger seems brighter. Sadness has a texture. Joy is a bubble of light that lifts my rib cage higher.
I had to learn that the body gives us clues about emotions. When I feel hot, I realize that I am embarrassed. An urge for movement, to punch with my tight fists, awakens me to the emotion of anger. I am connected and whole. Body, mind and spirit are not random signals broadcasting on separate channels, but instead a unity that sings to me. Like the woman who touched Jesus, I feel healing directly in my body.
Body is central to the Gospel. We are the body of Christ. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is incarnation– enfleshed in history. The body of Jesus suffered on the cross, not just his soul. And it was through the bodily resurrection of our Lord that the good news was revealed. We come to the table even today to receive his body.
Yet often we have sanitized and spiritualized the Body of Christ until it just a collection of floating souls and like-minded intellects without the flesh of a body. We recite the creed but, when it gets right down to it, how many of us really believe in the resurrection of the body? A risen body is the Christian truth, but in our world of scientific death as a finality we tend to fudge on this one a little bit. In my weekly Bible study, several women proclaim strongly that the resurrection of the body makes no sense.
What would my faith look like if I took seriously the resurrection of the body? What if I lived more like the woman healed of her affliction, knowing it so directly and personally in her body? When Jesus multiplies the loaves in John, Chapter Six, the abundance leaves leftovers. As Jesus explains that he is the bread from heaven he goes on to clarify, “And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.” – John 6:39. Jesus claims all of us, even our bodies. He gives us back to the Father, whole and complete, flesh included.
Yes, we are the body. Not in some spiritualized sense, but truly with our bones and muscles and tendons. We cannot exclude the dignity of any of our brothers and sisters. We must put flesh on our words and action to the Gospel if we are to truly be the Body of Christ.
Last weekend I went to a retreat with other Catholic sisters younger than 40. I met a sister who ministers as a hospital chaplain in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to providing presence to all the suffering and miracles in the hospital, she listens to the prostitutes who come in for care. Apparently, pimps buy McDonald’s value meals for poor women as a way to lure them into prostitution. When the women work for the men the name of their pimp is tattooed near their private area. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to the other young sister dream about a ministry of tattoo removal and spiritual and mental healing for the women who desire to leave prostitution.
The two things that I despise most about our human sinfulness are the sins of the sex and military industries. Violence and destruction destroy experiences of holiness and dignity. We take the gift of our God-given creative power and misuse it in attempts to prove ourselves. We misuse our bodies while we live lies.
Really, though, we can give God great glory with our bodies and our lives. Alternatives are abundant. Although we are small and powerless, we can unite with Christ to do great things in Love. In chastity and service humanity is healed.
Brothers and sisters: The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. –1 Cor. 6:13-15, 17-20
When I was a kid I was just as confused as everyone seems to be about what is right and wrong. I was persuaded by our dualistic society and its messages. Older Christians showed me that the New Testament taught me that we should live according to the spirit and not the sinful flesh. Did that mean my body was not good?
Soon, my students and I will study sexual ethics. I’ll emphasize that our bodies are really good and sex is very holy. We’ll examine how sexual desires can become destructive and dangerous when they’re not controlled: when we fail to use our bodies to glorify God. Rooted in Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body and I’ll use this book and this website. The holy power of our sexuality is alive in everyone’s bodies. As we seek union, we are capable of creating new life. As we love chastely, we can truly give God glory through our bodies.
Our bodies are holy and alive with the spirit of God’s goodness, which is why they are built for the morality of the reign of God. We are children of God. We are free. As we give God our powerlessness, God converts us into temples of blessing. When we say “yes” to God’s love our bodies are made powerful for humble service. As we serve, we build God’s reign of healing and justice now. God is glorified.
The problem is that not everyone gets this. Sins explode and people are seriously misused because of our desire to be powerful and great. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls this the drum major’s instinct:
And the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. Criminologists tell us that some people are driven to crime because of this drum major instinct. They don’t feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior, and so they turn to anti-social behavior in order to get attention, in order to feel important. And so they get that gun, and before they know it they robbed a bank in a quest for recognition, in a quest for importance. . . Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. . . You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.-The Drum Major’s Instinct By Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We can be the servants, who with Christ, show the world alternative ways to live. As we serve, God heals, loves, redeems. As we place our powerlessness in the hands of God’s we are set free to be temples of God’s goodness. In our bodies God is glorified. We unite together in great love and become God’s colorful, healing, chaste body of Christ- the true living God.