Why this tumult among nations,
among peoples this useless murmuring?
— Psalm 2:1
Why do you suppose, when we speak of the Church, so often we end up speaking of it merely in human terms?
We all do it. Human nature, we might say. It is our nature to view the Church as we do other “institutions.” It is something to influence, or be influenced by. It is something to exert authority, or something by which authority can be acquired.
How often do we attempt to define the great unknown only by what we are capable of perceiving? Too often, it seems, we view the spiritual through the lens of the political. We see division rather than union.
Right versus wrong.
Us versus them.
Man versus woman.
Rich versus poor.
Black versus white.
Democrat versus Republican.
Conservative versus liberal.
Traditional versus progressive.
Catholic versus Protestant.
The list goes on.
If this is what the Church is—to borrow a phrase from Flannery O’Connor—then to hell with it.
But this is not all it is. We know that what Isaiah the prophet tells us is true: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8).
However, like Martha in the Gospel of Luke, we become distracted, perturbed, and adamant. “You are worried and distracted by many things,” Jesus tells us. “There is need of only one thing.”
This one thing necessary captured the undivided attention of Martha’s sister Mary, who sat at the feet of Christ. The Church, after all, is not a mere human institution or political organization. It is none other than a Person—Christ Himself, who invites us to share in His divinity through the Eucharist. With Him, in Him, and through Him, we comprise the Body of Christ. This is the Church.
“He assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make us divine,” St. Thomas Aquinas tells us. “When he took our flesh he dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation.”
“Take it,” Jesus says to his disciples after blessing, breaking, and giving them bread. “This is my body.”
The Eucharist, then, is our binding force with God and one another. It is our truest identity. Fed with Christ, what is human becomes transformed into His Body, which the Church not only celebrates but bears to the world. It is the Church’s mission to transform the world by transforming you and me into Christ, who both transforms and transcends all human institutions.
“The Real Presence of Christ,” Pope Benedict XVI says, “makes each one of us his ‘house’ and all together we form his Church, the spiritual building of which Saint Peter speaks, ‘Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious, and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house’ ” (1 Pt 2:4-5).
As baptized Christians, corporately and individually, we are made one with the Body of Christ, who mystically works through us all as the Church—human warts and all.
As St. Paul says, “There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (Gal 3:38, 1Cor 10:16-17).
If, like Mary, we fix our attention on Christ, the one thing necessary that unites all, then the kingdom of God is among us as the Church. Viewed through this lens, we see union rather than division, and the Church defines us rather than vice-versa.
In this way we see Christ as He is—the divine instrument of human salvation in which we all share.
Then, like shoots of the olive, we gather around His table as God’s children.
“Take it. This is my body.”
We will never fully appreciate
the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
until we see the intimate connection
that exists between the mystery
of the Holy Eucharist
and the mystery of the Church,
the Body of Christ.
— Thomas Merton