The depth of communion opened up in the Body of Christ is amazing, the reciprocal circulation of love and life that permeates the Church, and indeed all of humanity, as it flows from the bosom of the Trinity through the Heart of Jesus and into his members, and among members, uniting and enriching them, until it carries us all back into the embrace of God once again, where all shall be made one in him who shall be “All in all.” This means that all of my most intimate experiences are significant for the whole of humanity, and even my most hidden desires and prayers spontaneously—if hiddenly—flow forth to touch the hearts of others and to bear fruit in them. So too, flowing in the opposite direction, I am granted to experience for and with others the resonance of their own pain, hope, and desire. Are there places in the world that I wish I could go, to be with those who suffer? I am, in a real way, already there, as they are here with me. Are there intentions that are precious and important to my heart, for which I desire to offer myself to God on their behalf? God sees these bonds of love as real; indeed, they are the realest of the real, participating as they do in the very substantial current of his own grace, his own love, his own uncreated life that flows in us and through us, touching, healing, and renewing, and preparing all of humanity to make its return, as beloved in the arms of her Lover, into the heart of his own cherishing embrace.
And the Heart of Jesus was from the first moment of his Incarnation, and ever shall be, the Convergence Point in which all of these currents flow together into unity, like lines intersecting on a single point, as well as the Wellspring from which all graces flow forth to permeate the entire universe. He is truly the Convergence Point and the Wellspring, and he becomes most fully and visibly so upon his Holy Cross and in his glorious Resurrection: he is the divine Magnet lifted up from the earth to draw all unto himself (cf. Jn 12:32; 11:52; Eph 2:11-22; Col 1:15-20), and the Fountain of life, pierced by a lance and pouring out Blood and water, like torrents irrigating the entire world and making it new (cf. Jn 19:34; 7:37-39; Ez 47:12; Rev 22:1-5).
Yes, even the little infant Christ riding with his mother on a donkey into the land of Egypt bears the whole of humanity within himself. He is experiencing, with them and for them, the pain of exile, of homelessness, of persecution, and yet pervading it all with the light of the divine gaze and sanctifying it fully by the radiant beauty of total dependence upon the love of the Father. And Mary and Joseph are with him in this, the true “poor of the Lord,” walking the path of poverty in total trust and radical surrender, and in the lightness, joy, and freedom which, we have seen, marks the atmosphere of true faith and intimacy with God.
If only we could experience with the Holy Family this flight into Egypt, to be with them in the insecurity of fugitives, in the total reliance upon God, in the sober intimacy of the life of love that they lived in their exile, and their confident patience in awaiting the journey home! But, in fact, we can. That is precisely the point that has emerged from the preceding reflections. All that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph experienced in their life is ours: it is open for us to participate in, to co-experience, and, through this participation, to come to know God’s presence and his love more deeply, as they did. But above all, the experience of the Holy Family moves in the opposite direction: it is their drawing near to us, God’s drawing near to us, in the exile that each one of us experiences, in our own spiritual homelessness, our own defenselessness before forces far greater than us.
Do we not all long for the experience of God’s presence to us in the here-and-now of our lives? Do we not wish, in particular, for the certainty of Christ’s contemporaneity? In other words, to know him with the same directness and intimacy that was granted to the first disciples, who actually walked with him on the roads of Palestine? The sense of God’s absence is indeed quite tangible in the world of today, and there are various efforts being made to try to make him more felt, more palpable, in a culture from which he has been all but completely excluded. But there is a danger in all of this, that the God presented—the Christ presented to our view—is not the real Jesus as found in Scripture, but a construct of our imaginings and preferences. I think for example of contemporary movies or television series that attempt to portray the life of Jesus and his disciples, but fall into the trap of presenting almost entirely non-biblical imaginings rather than the sobriety of historical fact and the mystery of biblical faith, in which Christ is both intimately near and also profoundly ungraspable in his ineffable divine-human mystery.
But beyond all this, there is a consoling truth: God has himself provided the means by which he is intimately present to us and with us until the end of time. He is truly forever contemporary with us, walking with us in all the details of our lives as intimately as he walked the earth two-thousand years ago, and also inviting us to leave everything to follow him with the same specificity, and the same closeness, as did his first disciples. As we have said before, the Church is the contemporaneity of Christ with human persons throughout time. To experience his presence, his love, and to come to know him as he truly is—in all the undimmed radiance of his truth—we need only open our hearts to his self-revelation in the word of Scripture, as magnified and expounded in the teaching of the Church, and to welcome his mystery as perpetually made alive, re-presented as a present event, in her Sacraments and her Liturgy.
The Church is the custodian of the true mystery of Christ, indeed of God’s self-revelation in its fullness. There is a reason that Saint Joseph has been called the “patron of the universal Church,” for just as he stood as father over the household of the Holy Family, as he enfolded it in the cherishing tenderness of his masculine love, so too he stands in care for the entire Church, Bride and Mother, and each one of her children. He continues to live, just as truly as he lived during his earthly life—or rather more so. So too the Blessed Mother, Mary, lives eternally in God, and her maternal, feminine, bridal, and virginal presence permeates every single fiber of the Church, all of her Sacraments and institutions and structures and can be found in every one of her teachings. This is because the Church is Bride, in the likeness of the first Bride, Mary; the Church is Virgin Mother, in the likeness of the Virgin Mother of God, Mary. Indeed, it is a matter of more than likeness; it is more like identification: Mary continues to live in the Church as her foremost member and her personal concretization: she is the Church as fully realized in a single individual, united to the divine Bridegroom in perfect nuptial intimacy and, from this intimacy, conceiving and birthing the divine life more deeply in the world.
But with the same degree of truth, or more so, we can affirm that the Church is Christ. This is the mysterious and beautiful interrelationship between those two primary images of the Church as used by Saint Paul: the Church is Bride and Body of Christ. Because the Church is Bride she also becomes Body. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:25-32). The distinction of two—man and woman, husband and wife, Christ and the Church—becomes one through the power of love. Thus the Bride, distinct from her Bridegroom as his beloved, also becomes his very Body, the extension of his presence throughout time and space, similar to the way that a man continues to live within a woman who has been joined to him in one flesh and carries his child in her womb. But of course the earthly analogy does not do justice to the depth and realism of the theological mystery.
But let us turn back from this to the point first being made: to encounter God in all the depth of his mystery, and to experience him as the truly living one and not a mere historical memory, we need only draw near to the Sacraments. Through these “divine mysteries” entrusted to the Church by Christ, he makes himself perpetually present in all the vigor of his love throughout time and space. And this is possible because of the very nature of the events that unfolded two-thousand years ago during the earthly life of Jesus, and, in particular, because of the realm he entered through his Resurrection. These events live forever because they were lived by the very Son of God, experienced by God himself as man, and thus transcend the limits of time and space, of historical circumstance and human consciousness: they are now part of the eternity of God’s own self-consciousness, taken up into the heart of the life of the Trinity. They are thus of eternal significance for all of humanity, just as they were first experienced in the singular humanity of the incarnate Son which bore in itself all of us, and lived for all of us every moment that made up his life within this world.
This is particularly true of the decisive moments at the climax of Jesus’ life: of the Paschal Mystery. These events, from the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, through the Passion and Death on Good Friday, to the glory of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, constitute a single event, a single indivisible whole in which each part is essential in illumining the others. This will become clearer in later reflections, but let us say now that without the words of the Eucharistic gift: “This is my Body, given for you; this is my Blood, poured out for you,” the gift of Christ’s Body upon the Cross would not be full and complete. The latter simply unfolds the inner meaning within the former, just as the former sanctifies and consecrates the latter and makes it a true sacrifice, a sacrifice ordered to communion through the power of love stronger than death. And neither comes to fullness without the Resurrection, in which the sacramental gift of Body and Blood in the Eucharist (meaning all of Christ is his divine-human identity), and the sacrificial gift of Body and Blood in the Passion, bursts forth into the new dimension of eternal life unlocked through Love in the Resurrection.
Yes, for the Resurrection is the only natural fruit of what occurred in the three preceding days, and its inner unfolding: for the gift of God given in the Eucharist is not a dead gift, nor even a merely earthly life, but the very Risen Body of Jesus Christ given in advance, the living Body by which all of us live; so too the suffering of Jesus’ compassion with us in the darkest place, by which he suffers with us and for us all the pain and loneliness of sin and death, and precisely thus bursts it open by the power of indestructibe love and the intimacy that he bears with the Father even in this anguished place, is the birthing-pains that open up the place in the very core of humanity for the life of God to dwell, and simultaneously the carrying of humanity across the abyss of separation, through the birth-canal of death surmounted by grace, and into the innermost embrace of the Blessed Trinity.
By his Resurrection, in which we participate through the Sacraments—baptized into his Death and Resurrection, receiving his Risen Life in the Eucharist, cleansed by the Blood pouring from his opened side in Reconciliation, etc.—by his Resurrection humanity is truly admitted into a new form of existence that was closed to it before. For the body now, beforehand marked by limitation, incapacity, suffering, and death, by the isolation that burdens our existence because of sin and weighs even upon our material flesh—this body has been opened wide to be a pure space of loving receptivity and gift, of encounter and intimacy, pervaded through and through by the energies of the Trinity’s own life and love, and made capable of loving with the very love of the Trinity that surges within us. Though present in us in “seed” now, growing in us through the energies of grace to which we surrender in prayer and the Sacraments, and which seek to pervade all of our thought, feeling, choice, and activity, this newness shall attain consummation only at the end of time, in the resurrection of the body, in which our entire being, and indeed the whole universe, shall be re-created and made new in the likeness of the Resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of the body…the gift of Christ’s Body…the renewal of our own bodies… By “body” here we mean not merely our incarnate bodiliness, our particular physical structure with skin, muscle, bones, and organs; we mean the whole of us, in the truly biblical sense: the body refers to all of me, just as Jesus meant when he said “This is my Body.” He gives not just flesh, nor does he just give spirit; he does not give only his humanity, nor only his divinity: he gives everything in its fullness, in the indivisible unity that it is in the core of his own unique Person, in his own “I” as the Beloved Son of the Father. And by receiving this unified gift of the Bridegroom Christ, he seeks to draw us into the same gift, in the reciprocal surrender of ourselves, and into the same unity within ourselves through complete unity with God.