Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Body is Broken. Blood is Spilling Out - A Reflection on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ by Rev. Richard Vosko

A Reflection on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ By Rev. Richard Vosko

Most of us continue to be stymied by the Coronavirus. Until a reliable thoroughly tested vaccine is available we will continue to live with uncertainty. Now another disease, one that has been festering for 400 years in this country, has awakened our nation from a kind of stupor. We have known about the racist virus for generations but an unchallenged culture of white superiority and privilege has stymied efforts to cure us of this sickness. We can no longer ignore the fact that the American body is broken and blood is pouring out everywhere. What must people of faith do?

Like many of you, and mindful that not all cops are bad, I participated in a protest against police brutality. I marched in Clifton Park, NY where I live and where the population is 95% white. The rally was organized by black students who attend Shenendehowa High School. I joined the crowd which was largely made up of students, parents and young families with their children. Together we walked and shouted “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice. No Peace,” and ... “I cannot breathe!” An emotional moment for me came when we were asked to kneel on one knee in silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

On Palm Sunday this year we Christians began a familiar liturgical journey. The path marked the final missionary days of Jesus of Nazareth and led to his execution on a cross. The mournful mood started to fade ritualistically at Easter and Pentecost. We recalled how puzzled and frightened disciples coalesced in spirit to carry on where Jesus left off. Christianity would become a powerful global moral authority. Historically it is a faith tradition of mixed blessings where corruption and charity, grievance and grace continue to be companions.

I came away from the Clifton Park rally feeling sad and angry. We have lost sight as a nation of what it means to be a democracy where all people are treated equally. Inequities exist all around us and are so mainstreamed they are taken for granted by many of us. Religions are not excused from their role to provide moral direction in these circumstances. Racism and white supremacy present theological problems for us. As a Church we do have the means to effect change. We are powerful, big and widespread. What we lack, in general, are leaders who are willing to take risks, to challenge and transform the status quo.

Historically, Catholic bishops have issued official statements decrying racism and other socio-inequalities. Some recently have publicly confronted elected officials. As a body, however, Catholic bishops are reluctant to address the disparities in their own religion. Men and women do not enjoy equal status in the Catholic Church. Further the Body of Christ is fractured by polarization on almost every issue. We have an obligation to be angry when we observe injustices anywhere.
The global reaction to the death of George Floyd has stirred up non partisan moral outrage. Innumerable businesses and professional sports leagues have already taken efforts to tackle and protest racial bias. Likewise, local governments are responding in the civic arena by changing laws related to law enforcement. In an act of interfaith alliance conservative and progressive religious leaders have linked with black churches in calling for police reforms and efforts to dismantle racism. Countless Catholics have supported these causes.

Sadly these peaceful protests are disavowed by some people who nevertheless claim to be religious or spiritual and who are quick to justify their opinions with bible in hand. They continually promote corporate privilege, xenophobia, outright lies, white supremacy, and militant force. Such people are exploiting religion to achieve self- serving agendas and are hurting the country at large. Their practices not only conflict with the Constitution of this nation but also negate the principles of any religion founded upon sacred texts and traditions. What we need at this time are religious, academic and government innovators who are willing to guide us to verdant pastures, a common ground where we can stand together with others to protest all inequities.

While we Catholics wait to return to the sacraments it is important to recognize that to be a moral authority in society today the Body of Christ, the Church, must first find ways to heal itself, to keep itself from being further fractured. The celebration of today’s feast, the Body and Blood of Christ is a time to recognize that our own Church body is broken and precious blood is pouring out everywhere. We ourselves are in need of healing as we look for ways to mend society. How do we get there?
In the second reading from First Corinthians Paul emphasized the power of the meal to break down boundaries, to create community solidarity. There is a place for everyone at the table. The gospel is John’s “bread of life” sermon and a reinterpretation of the eucharist and of Jesus’ whole ministry. The author presents a theology of the eucharist not only as an act of communion with Christ (as Paul suggested) but as an act that brings each of us into a communion with our own purpose in life. The theologian Paul Tillich called it “the ground of our being.”

The Christian belief that a sacramental life can help heal wounds is comforting for us. Returning once again to a house of worship to be with a community is reassuring. Repeating and discussing biblical narratives like the ones we read today is a good tradition. However, for these texts to take root in society they must be proclaimed in ways that make sense to an increasingly post Christian world. Samantha Ivey, the black student who organized the march I participated in, said: “it is important to use the voices God gave us to make change and spread positivity.”
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 We Catholics like others Christians believe the rituals we create and celebrate are gifts from God. They put us in touch with one another and with the Creator. They remind us that the ministry of Jesus is now our responsibility. The sacraments instill in us a strong but gentle Spirit. The eucharist is enacted by any one willing to work in the vineyard to cultivate fruits of peace and justice not only in our lives but in the lives of others.

A zealous return to religious normalcy or the way things were three months ago is to miss an opportunity for transformation. German Bishop Georg Bätzing observed that online liturgies have led the faithful to become more critical of the quality of worship services and preaching. Bätzing, who is president of Germany’s Catholic episcopal conference, said: ”The faithful will not allow us simply to fall back into old patterns.”1 A church that wants to improve its contemporary image has to refresh itself — its culture, its teachings and ritual practices.

Next week the liturgical calendar in the Catholic church returns to what is known as “ordinary time.” What will this mean for us? The vocation of the Christian is to recognize and treat all human beings and our planet with care and respect. It will take a bold initiative and hard work to put the body of Christ back together and infuse it with new blood.
Justice, peace and good health be with you.
Rev. Richard S. Vosko June 14, 2020

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