Deuteronomy 8, 2-3, 14-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17 + John 6, 51-58
A few years ago when I was in Haiti visiting Father Marc Boisvert at the ESPWA orphanage in Les Cayes he taught me that when children arrive there, it is always possible to distinguish those who are malnourished from those who are not. It is not just a matter of a distended stomach that we are sadly accustomed to seeing on TV news reports. Long before that occurs, the color of the children’s hair changes. The fact is, sometimes the stomach is not distended because there has been enough to eat; but what is consumed is not nourishing. It is then that the hair color changes. When the children have been at ESPWA long enough, the hair color turns to a natural and healthy looking black that signals improved health.
For some reason that memory came to mind while I was reflecting on this feast and its focus on food. It came to mind in a troubling way as I was also reflecting in prayer over the thousands of children crossing a boarder into this country listening to the outrage and arrogant responses of some with their easy and confident solution to the problem. Hungry and frightened children running in fear from violence and hopelessness seem to be scaring and threatening a lot of very comfortable and secure people in high places. It makes me think that perhaps we ought to look at the color of their hair. It makes me suspect that the undernourished are not the refugees, but those who are living it up with full plates and grocery carts.
As it is, the color of my own hair is not easily identified these days, but the truth of the matter is that all of us might do well to check our consumption and our diets. These times and the challenges they bring do not permit us the luxury of blame and finger pointing. While that goes on, people die. As Pope Francis said recently, when the Stock Market goes up or down a point or two, it is big news; but when someone dies of hunger in poverty, it is never news. Something is wrong here, and while we might find it easy to blame another, a system, a party, or an attitude, someone is starving to death while we fill garbage cans and feed our pets.
My faith tells me that this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ cannot be reduced to processions with the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Hours, or Benediction. This feast is about the Body of Christ. It is about food and nourishment. It is about unity and a bond among us all that is both mystical, spiritual, and physical. When someone dies of hunger, something in every one of us dies. When a child runs toward us in fear, it must not threaten us. Those are not someone else’s children. Every child belongs to us because every child belongs to God.
When we can find nothing better to do than insist that these children be sent away, it’s time to look at the color of our hair. We are not well nourished. A people who feast on the Body and Blood of Christ are not a people of fear, and they are not a people of ever think in terms of “them and us.”
Before this Feast becomes a matter of political and social issues, and before it gets reduced to processions and benedictions, it is about food and nourishment for the soul. It is about strengthening and building up the Body of Christ in this world, a body that includes Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Canadians, Africans, Asian peoples, Citizens of the United States, and people we never even think of because they are so far away. Our fumbling, cautious, and sometimes cruel response to this newest crises suggests to me that we are not well nourished; that the Body and Blood of Christ is not often enough and real enough on our menu to prepare us for the challenge ahead. We are not the only nation facing a challenge like this as people flee day and night into Jordan and Lebanon out of Syria, and as they flee day and night out of Nigeria and Somalia. There are 50 million refugees on this earth today, and many are in their own country because of violence. We cannot hide from this or pretend it is someone else’s problem.
The food we share in here when shared with knowledge and with faith will nourish and strengthen us as the Body of Christ, and then when a new crisis comes we will know what to do and do it right because we are the Body of Christ who never sent anyone away who came to him.