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Sunday 6 June 2021

As Broken as the Body of Christ?

Mark 14:12-26, 22-26

By Kathryn Turner

Member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Spirituality Committee and the Let’s Be Honest group (bringing together survivors and representatives from safeguarding bodies in dioceses and religious communities to explore ways of addressing the pastoral and spiritual implications of the abuse crisis within and beyond the Church)

Context: a parish community with experience of the wounded nature of the Church

Aim: to reflect on the Body of Christ, broken by the scandal of abuse, and its capacity to heal

‘While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said: Take; this is my body.’

Among all the meals Jesus shared with his disciples and all the blessings he offered over bread and wine; this was the only time he spoke these words. Even after his resurrection when he ate with the disciples, Jesus did not say those four words again. He spoke them on the threshold of a Passover even greater than the first, when God rescued the people of the Exodus. This new covenant was to be established by shedding not the blood of a lamb or ox, but his own. His was the body to be killed. And Jesus knew this.


And where words would have failed him, Jesus used a staple food and made a simple action. He took bread and broke it. But anyone who has tried this knows that the action is, in its way, more violent and closer to tearing – to pulling apart. As he did this, was Jesus aware of how his own body would be beaten – his arms pulled apart and nailed to the cross – his body, in the end, succumbing to the torture and blood loss?

This was the prophetic moment: giving to his disciples his body – inviting them to ingest his body and become his body.

We are the Body of Christ – and this grace is given to us through the Resurrection when that bruised, torn and wounded body emerged from the tomb and the disciples learned that ‘he is risen, he is risen indeed.’ But the body still carried the wounds: all the pain and anguish of the passion were still present – though now glorified and transformed.

We are the Body of Christ and, in 2018, Pope Francis wrote to the People of God to remind us that when one part of that Body suffers the rest of the Body does, too. He was referring particularly to those parts of the Body of Christ who have suffered and continue to suffer because of sexual and physical abuse by other members of the Body. The fact that those who suffered were among its weakest members means the harm done is more heinous. The Pope acknowledged that we are learning that ‘these wounds never go away and that the heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.’


This is not the silence of Jesus during much of his Passion as his body was humiliated and abused: that was his choice – his decision – born of the divine strength within him. The silence of the victims in the Body of Christ was enforced by threat – or by the suppression of memories – or the power of those who would not listen.

This has meant that most of us have not heard of the impact of abuse on the parts of the Body of Christ who have suffered. Our own eyes have not seen – our own ears have not heard – our own hearts have not felt the pain of the Body. But now the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes – our ears – our hearts. Many of us react to the wounds we are learning about as we would to wounds on our physical bodies – or the pain we try to ignore in case it turns out to be something serious. We recoil – we deny – we ignore.


Yet, as we know from our life-experience, when we acknowledge the wound – the pain – the lump – and take the action needed, healing can begin. The wounds inflicted upon the Body of Christ are deep – many have festered from long years of neglect. Some have been like a cancer that has eaten away at the soul – preventing that part of the Body of Christ from flourishing and bringing forth the life it was created to contribute.

But this is the Body of Christ – and if we know anything about what this means, it can be found in the life of Jesus who challenged the abuse of power and reached out to the vulnerable. The Body of Christ is gravely wounded – but it is infused with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus who gives it the power to acknowledge the evil that has been wrought and the desire to heal those who have been so deeply harmed.

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