This post is a little late in coming. I originally heard this anecdote during the homily on Corpus Christi Sunday a few weeks ago. I had some thoughts about it then, but I got distracted (otherwise known as so tired I can’t seem to stay awake long enough to write a blog post), and it kept getting put off. But I keep thinking about it, so I want to share.
The priest at Mass on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ told this story from the life of Flannery O’Connor, in which she talks of a dinner party she attended with some secular literary folks:
Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.
–Flannery O’Connor, from the letter to her anonymous friend “A.”
Now, I love me some Flannery O’Connor. And this, this is just so perfect. Because ultimately, *if* the Eucharist is not what it purports to be, if it is in fact anything other than the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ…then the hell with it. What’s the point? How does ingesting a little piece of bread, which one believes is only essentially a little piece of bread, make one closer to God, or help one to imitate the example of Christ? In fact, if the Eucharist is only a symbol of anything, it seems likely to me that it’s a symbol of lunch.
On the other hand, *if* the Eucharist is everything we believe it is, then what a grand, bold claim! What a God who will actually make himself present to us in the form of ordinary food items, and all so we can have the opportunity to become more like Him! A God who makes himself so small, allows us to actually consume Him, completely out of love and self-gift. It seems to me it’s exactly as my girl Flannery says, “It is the center of existence for me, all the rest of life is expendable.”
During that Mass I couldn’t help taking the words of the consecration in a new way. When the priest says, using the words of Christ, indeed acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ): “This is my body, given up for you.” I had to thank God in that moment for the gift of his very flesh for my life, but also, I thought instinctively of the little life growing inside me, flesh of my flesh, and prayed that God would help me to imitate His Sacrifice — that he would give me the grace to willingly say to this little one, “This is my body, given for you.” After all, what is it to be a mother than to offer the very best of ourselves for our children, which usually includes the best of our physical strength and endurance.
This prayer seems particularly apt to me being pregnant, but also is the prayer of every dad-to-be who cooks dinner or does the laundry so his pregnant wife can rest. It’s the prayer of every adoptive parent who loses sleep waiting anxiously for paperwork to be completed so they can bring home their child. It is the prayer of every parent. period. It is the gift we offer to our children, our very selves, for the life, safety, and well-being of our children.
God offers us no less than His very self, his Body, for the life and salvation of His children (us). After all, what kind of parent would offer to only symbolically give their child the best of themselves? What kind of God would offer us only a symbol of His very self for our salvation?