Today’s great feast of Corpus Christi feels something like a return to the Paschal Triduum and the Maundy Thursday celebration of the institution of the Eucharist. As Catholics, the Eucharist lies at the center of our spiritual lives because it is the means par excellence by which we are sanctified and, ultimately, divinized. As such it is not the Christian’s reward for virtuous behavior and freedom from sin, but is itself transformative in healing the deepest roots of our sinfulness and misery.
However, as Christ makes clear, the Eucharist is so much more than spiritually medicinal, and effects an ever-deepening union Christ in those who devoutly partake of his holy body and blood. Thus Jesus explains that whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Given our images of Christ in his humanity as one who lived among us (as one of us), it can be difficult to fully grasp what this remaining in Christ and Christ remaining in us, actually means. With our presently overly physical perspective it is problematic thinking about someone residing within us, albeit spiritually and in his glorified humanity.
In this regard, we think of that post-resurrection appearance in which Jesus reassuring his disciples that he was not a ghost, pointed out that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have. This rather physical-sounding state of the resurrected Jesus is one that also complicates understanding just how he can actually dwell within those who receive the Eucharist. Our still very limited understanding of Christ’s resurrected body (and our future resurrected bodies) thus impedes understanding how it is possible for Christ to dwell simultaneously in us as well as in the hearts of all those who love him and partake of his Body and Blood.
Further complicating this issue is the impression created by the writings of some mystics which suggest that being in Christ and Christ being in us means losing ourselves—it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, says Saint Paul. However, when we consider the mystery of Christ’s Mystical Body, we are assured that as living members of that body we are not simply absorbed into Christ the Head, but retain our true identity as perfected images and likenesses of him in whose image we were created. And since the Head cannot be separated from the Body, there is a real sense in which we are also incorporated into the very Eucharist we receive. It is this reality that makes our dying with Christ possible and allows us to unite our sufferings with his at the consecration, so that like Paul, we can help fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.
So although we may continue to struggle with understanding just how Christ dwells in us through receiving the Blessed Eucharist, faith enables us to begin experiencing, this reality which transforms us from within. For, as Jesus assures us whoever eats my flesh has eternal life—not will have but has eternal life. And it is in living that eternal life, now, through faith, that some of our deepest questions dissipate in the lived experience of Christ’s dwelling within us, and by knowing his loving embrace in partaking of the blessed sacrament of his Body and Blood.