Bodies of Christ

eucharisticonBy Pearl Maria Barros

As I write this reflection, I am enjoying the last few hours of Corpus Christi Sunday. Because I missed Mass today, I was only reminded of this feast when a good friend mentioned it. It’s ironic, actually, that I’d forget about Corpus Christi as it has always been one of my favorite Feasts.

When I was a teenager, I felt deeply called to consider Roman Catholic religious life. I desired to serve the church or the “Body of Christ” as I liked to imagine it. It was my favorite image of church; it meant that we were all in this together and that the eyes could not say to the ears, “we don’t need you anymore.” Everyone had a unique mission, a special vocation, that paradoxically contributed to the collective mission and vocation of the church. The odd thing is that as a teenager I found myself so in love with the idea of the Body of Christ that I often forgot what such embodiment actually implies. I conveniently disregarded the fact that while our bodies can be sources of tremendous strength and pleasure, they can also be sources of fear and pain.

In retrospect, it seems fitting that the realities of embodiment eluded me as a teenager. According to popular wisdom, teenagers tend to be aware of their embodiment solely in terms of sexuality rather than also taking into account other aspects of embodiment such as illness and death. This is not to say that all teenagers feel invincible but perhaps that most of us tend to feel invincible until we are personally touched by
illness and/or death.

Illness touched me a few months ago and for one of the first times in my life I felt particularly close to death – “close” as in “nearness” not “close” as in “I want to snuggle with you.” High fevers, a couple of inflamed internal organs, and a variety of other problems due to a severe case of Mono coupled with an antibiotic that suppressed my bone marrow made me the center of attention for a few teams of doctors at Mount Auburn Hospital. Although I’m an only child, I have to say that this was attention I did not want. Indeed, what kept me from falling into despair during those first days when my diagnosis was still unclear was the kindness I experienced in my interactions with people. Whether it was the janitor telling me about his love of art, the nurse joking with me as she changed my IV, or the constant companionship of my mom and fiance who stayed with me day and night, these people tethered me to my humanity at a time when I thought I would surely slip away. They reminded me that though my own body might be going through difficulties, I am part of a much larger body, a body from which nothing can ultimately separate us, not even death.

Pearl Maria Barros is currently a doctoral student at Harvard Divinity School. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from HDS and a Bachelor’s degree in English and Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. When not studying, she enjoys visiting family and friends in her native California, traveling, and drinking coffee.

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