This Sunday is the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and is still known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. It is one of the great mysteries of our religion to the extent that in the Mass, when the bread and wine are consecrated and changed into the body and blood of Christ, we say, ‘Let us proclaim the Mystery of our Faith.’
The word ‘mystery’ tends to leave us a bit up in the air with something that we will never understand while in fact a mystery of Faith is not something we will never understand but rather something we will never come to an end of understanding. The very fact that it is both within our reach and yet so beyond it is the very thing that feeds our souls that can’t just live on bread and wine alone.
When we think of our very first experience of God, it was actually of God being body and blood. We were encapsulated in the body of our mother and drip fed by her blood. Our first experience of being made welcome and wanted came through our parents, just as our first experience of being held by God came through the embrace of both mother and father. Our first experience of being gazed at in absolute delight by God we found in the gaze of our mother. Perhaps after waiting to look at us after nine months in her womb she could have been disappointed to find we looked more like our father!
This is an amazing reality and a profound truth that long before a child makes his or her Holy Communion they have long before experienced what communion is all about through the love of their parents. Parents are in fact God to their child and for that child there is and can be no other God. In fact it is how the child experiences the love of their parents that will affect all subsequent relationships and determine the kind of god he or she will relate to throughout life. For example, if in life I was inclined to be a bit bold and yet in my fathers eyes could no wrong, the god I will relate to will allow me to make mistakes, not leave me crippled with guilt, and still love me unconditionally. If my experience of parents was somewhat cold and distant then the God I relate to will probably seem cold and remote as well.
Let me share with you an example from my own life of how parents can be the bread of life for their children. Back in the late 50’s and 60’s it was widespread practice in Irish hospitals for parents not to be allowed to visit their children. Even in Communist Russia they never descended to such cruelty. The completely twisted thinking was that it would be too upsetting for the child. Even a week, let alone a month, for a young child can seem an eternity and many children who were subjected to a lengthy period of separation carried the effects right through their lives. Parents often spoke of getting a very different child back from hospital to the one who went in. Psychologists eventually came to the conclusion that such children were temporarily orphaned and often permanently traumatized by such draconian practices of being separated for long periods from their parents.
In my own case I needed an operation when I was three and I can still recall it as if it were yesterday. I went to sleep with my parents at my bedside with the expectation and promise that they would still be there when I would wake up. Of course that didn’t happen and it was my first experience of being let down by my parents and being separated from them. A week passed and I cried the tears of an abandoned child amid strange smells, new faces, big needles and weird things being done to my body. While very sick after anesthetic I was forcibly fed which affected my relationship with food for most of my life. Then after what felt an eternity I saw my parents brown van come up the drive and minutes later I could hear their hushed voices in the corridor. My heart that had died suddenly came alive again. All I wanted at that moment was for my mother to be there for me, to put her arms around me and hold me tight and then I knew that all would be well again. Just then she would have been my bread of life giving me the comfort, reassurance and presence that I so desperately needed. She would have been God in the flesh just then.
It never happened, my parents were not allowed to see me and minutes later I saw the car go back down the same drive and my heart sank to a level of despair that I have never known either before or since. That remained my most painful childhood memory and for years I tried to block it out but it continued to haunt me until I eventually allowed it to belong in my life. Thankfully we now live in a more enlightened era in regard to such matters and my heart goes out to anyone who has suffered any trauma or abandonment as a child and I realize first hand how it can still affect them as an adult. My experience was so small in relation to many and especially to some of the horrifying the stories we now hear so often. So when Jesus said he was the bread of life he was also showing how as parents we are bread for our children and for loved ones how we can actually be the love of God in their lives reassuring them that no matter what there is a love that will never fail or desert them.