Corpus Christi reminds us: a different kind of politics won’t heal our divisions. Only the Eucharist can.
Is the Catholic Church in the United States more divided than united? If so, what can we do about it? If not, why do we persist in spreading rumors of divisions?
These questions are inspired by a recent article in America by Joe Hoover, S.J., “There Is No Civil War in the Catholic Church,” but they are, sadly, not new.
The Eucharist as the sacrament of unity constitutes the church not as just another social body.
Decades earlier, when Henri de Lubac, S.J., surveyed Europe on the brink of World War II, he knew that it had lost its sense of unity in Christ. The French Jesuit priest and theologian sought to recover a eucharistic ecclesiology of the body of Christ that was as timely as it was timeless. Against the divisive and violent forces of racism, nationalism and antisemitism, which de Lubac diagnosed as profoundly spiritual maladies, he offered a vision of human unity rooted in the body of Christ and directed toward the Eucharist. As de Lubac argues in Corpus Mysticum (1944), “the Eucharist makes the Church.”
De Lubac knew that terrible “us versus them” dynamics had intensified in the church, with racist ideologues seeking to co-opt mystical-body theology to identify the true church with a particular race, e.g., the Germans. De Lubac saw fit, therefore, to emphasize the foundation of the “ecclesial body of Christ (the Church)” in “the sacramental body of Christ (the Eucharist),” as Sarah Shortall argues in her brilliant book Soldiers of God. The Eucharist as the sacrament of unity constitutes the church not as just another social body, but as mystical and universal in its orientation toward the kingdom of God.
De Lubac’s insight remains crucial: Spiritually pathological movements cannot simply be opposed with an alternative politics. National Socialism, for instance, was deeply and profoundly unjust and, still worse, claimed to offer an ersatz religion. But the state, even the best state, cannot offer salvation. The Nazi claim to offer a new religion, therefore, cannot be true, and efforts to advance that religion, de Lubac argues, can only bear fruit in the violence, injustice and ultimately sin in which occupied France was indeed mired. Those are the wages of false unity, of a peace predicated upon the denial of the imago Dei of an entire group of people.
The eucharistic body of Christ offers a supernatural vision of unity beyond any natural vision of human unity possible.
But the eucharistic body of Christ offers a supernatural vision of unity beyond any natural vision of human unity possible. It is “life” in the richest sense of the Gospel of John: “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6).
To be sure, this spiritual vision can aid political resistance to such injustice. It should further inspire political society to something more than rancor and envy. But it can offer that inspiration and transformation precisely because it is not just another way of doing politics, some third way between liberalism and collectivism, but a glimpse of the City of God to which all earthly cities should aspire, but also accept as beyond them.
The solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi, is a reminder, in the words of St. Paul, that “the loaf of bread is one,” so that “we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10). Christ is one with the Father, and as the God-man prefigures the unity of all humanity with God. But union with the divine comes only through humility. We seek to be divine, and politics is more often than not the site of humanity’s tragic attempts at self-deification. But we can only become divine through kenosis, the profound awareness that we are not God, that only God is our true cause and end. In that humility, we can be open to the love that is the ground of true unity.
And that unity is efficacious. It is the grace of Christ in the Eucharist who makes the church. For that reason, it conforms us to Christ, putting us on mission with him for the Father and in the service of God’s people, particularly the poor, hungry and naked of Matthew 25. We can be the good Samaritan most fully only when we accept that Jesus is the deepest identity of the good Samaritan.
Life can seem a tension between hoping for the future unity of all in God the Father and living with its partial, incomplete fragility in the conflicts and divisions of the here and now. But the more we open ourselves to God’s grace and allow him to conform us to his son, the more we experience that condition not as a tension but as a growing reconciliation with all humanity and creation, whose increase is small and quiet, but powerful and unmistakable. That sense is our experience of grace interrupting our desolation and despair, revealing the world for what it is: the vineyard of the Lord.