By: Fr. Joseph Briody, Professor of Sacred Scripture
For many, August is vacation time, a time for relaxation of body and mind. The importance of the body emerges also in the liturgical feasts of August. The Church celebrates the glorification of the human body in Christ. The Transfiguration of Christ is set before us, when his body and robes shine with heavenly brightness (August 6). The bodily assumption and coronation of Mary as Queen of heaven and earth are set before us (August 15 and 22). St. Maximilian Kolbe (August 14, this year a Sunday) shows us the glory of martyrdom, the offering of the body in the gift of self.
The body is vital in how we give ourselves to God. In the body, we were baptized into Christ’s Body and anointed with Chrism. Through the body, we grow and mature. In the body, we work, we serve, we fast, we pray, we reach out, we connect, we nurse, we console, we listen, we notice, we help, we relax, we adore. Husband and wife cooperate with God in the mystery of procreation. Priests and religious are consecrated to God in chaste celibacy to serve his people. As the years pass, we offer our limitations, our illness and weakness. We grow old, we die. Our bodies are anointed in the Sacrament of the Sick. The bodies of the deceased faithful are blessed, incensed, and buried, like the grain of wheat that dies to produce a much greater harvest, awaiting the Last Day and the General Resurrection. Only in the body can we receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion, a privilege afforded not even to the angels. The body matters. The body counts. It is a gift and the arena in which we work out our salvation. Christ honored us greatly by taking our humanity on himself and living, dying, and rising a human body. The Christian body is the Temple of God.
The body is important. Through it, we give ourselves to the Lord and live for him. We live especially from the Eucharistic Body of Christ, offering our bodies, our entire selves, in union with him (Rom 12:1): “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” This is what Our Lady did. It’s what St. Maximilian Kolbe did, stepping forward as a martyr of charity. It’s what every priest is called to do.
St. Maximilian Kolbe embodies the freedom of consecrated celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. The body is for the Lord! St. Maximilian Kolbe could step forward with pastoral freedom and spiritual serenity to offer his life in exchange for that of the man who so desperately wanted to live and be reunited again with his wife and children. No greater love! Chaste celibacy lived in love is indeed the pearl of great price, the jewel in the crown of the Latin Rite priesthood. St. Maximilian Kolbe and countless others embody this self-offering. They inspire us not to settle for mediocrity in our spiritual and priestly lives.
In his recent document on liturgical formation, Pope Francis observes that we have forgotten how to read symbols, especially that of the human body. The body reveals the immortal soul to which it is intimately united. It points to transcendence and to God. The Church’s Liturgy takes us “by way of the symbolic language of the body” (Desiderio Desideravi [DD], 19).
The priest is consecrated to build up the Body of Christ (the Church) especially by offering the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body (the Mass). Without a holy and faithful priesthood—without the Eucharistic Body of Christ—the Church in places weakens, shrinks, and even disappears. Every priest and future priest is invited to step forward like St. Maximilian Kolbe and give himself for the service of others—for families, for the faithful, for the Church, for Christ. In offering the Body of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, the priest places his own body on the altar with Christ’s. Pope Francis observes: “The priest cannot recount the Last Supper to the Father without himself becoming a participant in it. He cannot say, ‘Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body which will be given up for you,’ and not live the same desire to offer his own body, his own life, for the people entrusted to him. This is what happens in the exercise of his ministry” (DD, 60).
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About the Seminary: Founded in 1884, New England’s oldest Major Seminary, Saint John’s Seminary serves Catholic communities across the New England region and beyond by educating and training men to be Catholic priests and by providing a graduate education in Catholic Theology to laity, deacons, and professed religious who serve the Church in a variety of different ministries.