The Body of Christ. We hear these words before we receive the Eucharist at Mass. Christ is not only present in the Eucharist, but also present in the community of believers who receive the Body and Blood of Christ. God became flesh and blood through Jesus to show us the way. By receiving communion, we are nourished to be in communion with God and one another.
Filled with the bread of life, we are called to be the Body of Christ in the world, sharing ourselves with others, like Jesus giving himself to us. We too are called to make sacrifices for others by sharing our bread with those in need.
We can share our bread by building community in our neighborhoods where there may be division, serving at a soup kitchen, going on a mission trip, reconciling with family members, and working for structural change by voicing the needs of the marginalized to representatives.
We are a global family united in Christ through communion. The bread of life helps us to stand in communion with each other as an interconnected family. When we share a meal with family and friends we share in spiritual communion too. Christ is present in the relationships with one another. Jesus not only broke bread with friends and family, he also ate with the poor and outcasts of society. He is calling us to share in table fellowship with the marginalized as well.
"The body," which is society, suffers when the poor are excluded from the table and we fail to be in communion with them. Neglecting people in our human family affects the body of Christ because when one person suffers we all suffer. We all need food to eat otherwise we cannot live. Therefore, Christ calls us to be the body of Christ for each other by making sure we all have enough to eat.
Christ also invites us to table fellowship with the poor. When we share in communion with the poor, we are being the body of Christ, following Jesus' example of table fellowship. Sharing a meal with others strengthens our community.
Along with physical hunger, we also have a spiritual hunger. If we do not receive the Eucharist, our spiritual bodies lack nourishment. The bread of life gives us spiritual energy to follow Christ. It also helps us to pray and to listen to God in our lives.
A few years ago, I was in Bolivia helping out at a school and parish in the countryside. I experienced the body of Christ through sharing meals with the Bolivian people. One specific experience that reminds me of the Body of Christ was the time I visited Tocoli, a small community of Aymara indigenous peoples on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the altiplano (Spanish for "high plains").
I went to Tocoli with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Sisters, and Fathers and Brothers to the community. We wanted to learn more about the reality of life there. Little did I know that immediately after arriving, we would share in communion with the people. We arrived around lunch time and the Aymara people of Tocoli wanted to make sure we were well fed.
The people there live in simple houses without running water and sometimes without electricity. As we walked down the hill to the bottom of the village, the people came outside to welcome us with open arms. Each of the women wore a bright-colored woven blanket called an aguayo tied to her back to carry things or to cover for warmth. The women sat down on the ground and opened these colorful backpacks. To my surprise, they were filled with food to share.
The men sang songs and played the zampona (a traditional panpipe musical instrument) to welcome us while the women laid out potatoes of different shapes, and sizes and colors. We sat on the ground because the Aymara people see the earth as sacred; therefore, touching the grass and soil of the earth is to be closest to Mother Earth, whom they call Pacha-mama.
The Aymara people believe that God provides for them through Mother Earth and in return, they are to care for Mother Earth.
We ate with our hands and sat around the food, talking with one another. The meal consisted of black, yellow, purple, and orange potatoes, chuno (freeze dried potato), sweet potatoes, some meat, and other vegetables. The meal was simple, yet a banquet because we shared in communion.
The body of Christ was fully present in the sharing of this simple meal. We experienced communion with each other through our sharing. The meal was a Eucharistic celebration.
God provided us with food to eat and allowed us to experience fellowship through the sharing of potatoes. We were forming community and being the body of Christ through the meal. The communion they shared with us was the meal they prepared. Sitting on the ground, eating together, and sharing ourselves with each other allowed us to be in communion with God and each other as the body of Christ.
Jesus broke bread with the disciples and said, "Do this in memory of me," reminding us to be the body of Christ in the world. Christ is the bread of life given to us to share with others. The resurrection allows us to access Christ's body and blood in moments like this.
Christ's body and blood unites the people of God. Gathered as one family in Christ, when we receive the Eucharist, we say “amen” to being the body of Christ through serving like Christ, washing our neighbors’ feet, being the word of God, and building community with our neighbors, as Jesus is the word made flesh through the body and blood that we receive in Eucharist.
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Photo: Aymara indigenous women and children at a market in the altiplano (“high plains”) of Bolivia. Photo courtesy of Maryknoll Mission Education.