Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christ

Today was the Feast of Corpus Christ - the Feast of Christ's Body. Why celebrate or even think about Christ's body? I want to get at an answer by thinking about a current American figure of great influence: Oprah.

Oprah has followers who read her writings, watch her show, and listen very attentively to what she has to say. She is very much a teacher and purveyor of wisdom. And it seems to me that much of her power and influence have to do with her body and with the promise others see implicit in it.

Now it is news, isn't it, when Oprah's weight is up and when she diets? Of course, this is true of many "stars," especially when bikini season is upon us; and Kirsti Allie's career currently revolves around fluctuations in her tonnage. But no one has built an empire upon the transformation of her body and her self in the way that Oprah has. Jenny Craig? Different: she has a plan, a method, a clinical routine. Oprah, though possesses prestige or, better yet, glory. And in her glory she offers hope to millions.

Quibble with me if you will, but the main point is this: Oprah's body has something to do with the hope that she kindles in so many hearts. She shows women that if they diet and exercise they can have self-confidence, happiness, and - perhaps like Oprah - limitless success. She herself is the example.

There is something similar in Catholicism. Jesus is more than a name, Christianity more than a message. There is in the flesh of Christ an example of the hope that many people aspire to: resurrection and everlasting life. The same body that hung from a cross and that was placed inside a grave is now alive and well and placed in a position of power. We can follow that example, Christian belief teaches, and expect something similar.

Of course between what Oprah inspires and Christian faith there are many, many differences - the comparison is only a weak analogy. But in a culture where the body and the shape of the body are the almost exclusive subjects of much popular literature (i.e. the stuff at grocery store checkouts), none should be puzzled that Catholic religion devotes a day to Jesus' body. Americans are fascinated by the body, elevate it to a special place, and listen attentively to promises regarding it.

Corpus Christ is nothing strange, then. It is another form of attention to the body, only it happens to be the adoration of that Body which is itself the promise of eternal life. Amen.

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