This week the Church leads us from one great solemnity, Trinity Sunday last weekend, to another, Corpus Christi Sunday, on June 22. Both feasts teach us something beautiful about the God we profess and the life he invites us to lead.
Like Jews and Muslims, Christians believe that God is one. There is no other god but God, who made all things from nothing; who is infinitely greater than and different from us; and who is utterly independent of his creation. When we call God holy we mean what the Latin word sanctus or the Hebrew word kadosh means – God is “other than” us, and our human understanding, unaided by God himself, can never fully grasp his essence.
But Christians also believe that God speaks to us through Scripture and the wisdom of the Church, and that the words from the First Letter of John – “God is love” (4:8,16) — are quite literally true. God’s nature, his “oneness,” is a communion of love among Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three divine persons, whose love creates and sustains all things. Thus, while the nature of God is a mystery, it’s not an entirely foreign one: Every loving human family – the unity of father, mother and child — reflects, in a small and partial way, the nature of God himself.
There’s more. Christians believe that God is not merely transcendent but also immanent. God became man in Jesus Christ. He took on our flesh. Therefore Christianity is incarnational. God created the human race, but then he also entered it out of love to redeem us. He loves each of us not only as a maker, but also as a father and brother. This constant, tangible presence of God personally in our midst is renewed in every Mass. The Eucharist is more than a symbol or a metaphor or a commemorative meal, although it’s all those things, as well. Rather, it’s the living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
Corpus Christi Sunday, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, reminds us that Jesus really is Emmanuel – “God with us” – and every time we receive him in the Eucharist, he asks us to love as he loved and trust God as he trusted his father.
How do we love as Christ loved? How do we take Christian love from the realm of theology to the realm of practice?
Mother Teresa did it one small act of mercy at a time. Today her Missionaries of Charity comfort the destitute and suffering around the world. Eunice Kennedy Shriver began with the same modest steps. The Special Olympics movement started more than 50 years ago as simple games in the back yard of Eunice and Sargent Shriver’s home. The Shrivers had a profoundly Catholic love for children with intellectual disabilities, and once they began, they never stopped helping persons with disabilities discover their God-given dignity and skills.
Today the Special Olympics movement includes 4.2 million athletes in more than 170 countries. As I write this column, nearly 4,000 Special Olympics athletes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are competing in the 2014 USA National Special Olympics Games in New Jersey, and 185 of those extraordinary athletes belong to the Pennsylvania delegation. Each of them is a hero. So is every coach, parent, volunteer and sponsor who has worked so hard, sacrificed so much and loved so unselfishly to win these Special Olympians the inclusion and recognition they deserve.
If “God is love” – and he is – then those who love well, for the sake of others, without counting the cost, are the godly. They’re the human face of God’s love in our midst. And all of us are the richer for it.
This coming Sunday, as we celebrate Corpus Christi, we need to thank God in a special way for the gift of his love, incarnate in his son; for Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist; for the living water we find in Sacred Scripture; and for the Christian witness of those whose lives give us a glimpse of the beauty of God himself.