The church is a big tent. But it does have walls.
“They got two Hail Marys going,” my husband whispered. And so they did. The lector near the front of the procession was calling out, “The Lord is with thee!” but the folks in the back were already up to “the hour of our death.” It was the Corpus Christi procession, which miraculously comes on the hottest, muggiest, least walkable day of the year. Father, in his heavy vestments, sweated a river before we even left the church grounds.
According to tradition, we had forgotten the stroller. A few of the kids sulked fruitlessly, and one was shoeless, possibly underwearless. Our mostly pagan 5-year-old scuffled joyfully through hawkweed and asters, openly worshipping summertime. We paused as an elderly woman helped her even more elderly mother assemble her walker, and the procession bunched, broke apart, thinned out and then re-formed. And the battle of the rosaries continued: “Pray for us sinners...” “Full of grace, the Lord is with thee!”
Besides the time I almost got shanked by a four-foot-high nun trying to get a photo of the pope, this procession was the most Catholic thing I had ever experienced.
Besides the time I almost got shanked by a four-foot-high nun trying to get a photo of the pope, this procession was the most Catholic thing I had ever experienced. A few folks were loudly gabbing about the weather, while others tripped on the curb, their eyes screwed shut as they prayed. Someone’s suffering, veiled abuela hobbled painfully past her contemporary, a fellow sporting athletic shorts and a pendulous ear gauge. A woman hung in the doorway of the Church of Christ, Scientist, gawking through the screen at this Church of Christ, Everyone. The traffic roared, the squirrels groused, and we lurched on, praying as we went.
We make this procession every year to bring Christ out into the streets, to proclaim that we really believe this strange little white host is actually God’s real, physical body. We’re so excited to have Him, we want to go run and share Him.
We make this procession every year to bring Christ out into the streets.
The emphasis of the day is on Christ in the Eucharist, his body, blood, soul and divinity. But as we climbed the hill, I thought: “And we are the Body of Christ. This is what it looks like: like us.” Kind of a mess, but by God, at least we’re all headed in the same general direction.
It was an emotional moment, one that is maybe a little too easy to package into a feel-good lesson about unity and tolerance. Before you know it, at times like this, you’ve stumbled past cliché into heresy. The church is universal and exceptionally tolerant of different kinds of spirituality; but, like the Israelites in Sunday’s first reading, we still do have to follow the commandments. You’ll see folks in all stages of health and development in this “field hospital for sinners,” but there are some beliefs, some attitudes, some behaviors and, yes, some people who simply cannot rightly call themselves “Catholic.” It is a big tent, but it does have walls.
If you want to call yourself a part of the Body of Christ, then make sure it is Him you are following.
It is not enough to say, “We all basically want the same thing, so why sweat the details?” Some details are more important than others; and it is all too easy to believe that all the unappealing aspects of our faith are the meaningless details, while all the stuff that comes easy is the truly true heart of Catholicism.
Nevertheless, in this year so marred with wild and violent divisions, so blighted with chaos and strife, I saw on that feast day what I desperately needed to see. Strolling, marching, stumbling, straggling or being pushed along by someone stronger, we were all following Christ, literally. I could see the shining rays of the monstrance up ahead, and that is how I knew which way to go. Father’s arms must have been numb, but still, he held the monstrance up, and still, we followed.
We made our way to the grassy commons for a short benediction. Father climbed the steps of the little gazebo, and the rest of us rested in the shade of the trees, bathed in the light of the presence of God. We were the Body of Christ. It is the only thing worth being.
Walk how you want. Wear what you want. Be stoic or reverent or jocular; look left and right, admire the view, or keep your head down. But if you want to call yourself a part of the Body of Christ, then make sure it is Him you are following—not only on Sundays, not only on solemnities, but every day, in your family life, in your work, in your friendships, in your sexuality, in your politics, in the way you approach one another. Make sure He is why you do what you do.