I became a mother not quite six years ago, and I have admittedly been surprised by how physically demanding the role is. Pregnancy, labor and delivery, and nursing difficulties aside, all mothers of young children know something of the bodily exhaustion that accompanies, say, a day at the zoo or even a morning at Sunday Mass. We’re no strangers to the hitting, biting, kicking, hair-pulling, glasses-grabbing, necklace-breaking behaviors of babies and toddlers. I certainly didn’t expect a toddler’s bite would send me to the ER with a feverish infection, or an errant fingernail to the eye would leave me with a significant corneal abrasion, but both things actually happened to me. Honk if you’ve been assaulted by an eighteen-pounder.
But it’s hardly the physical pain of mothering that leaves me feeling so . . . incarnate. Rather, it is the holding, hugging, bouncing, buckling, bandaging, bathing, hair brushing, rocking, roughhousing, diaper wrangling, feeding, tickling, lifting, kissing, cuddling, carrying, wiping, and wiping again that shows me how much we experience love through our bodies. These little ones who are entrusted to us are hardly angels. Indeed, they seem more stomach than intellect. And we’re just grown-up versions of them.
My children thus serve as regular reminders that we come to know the love of family, and by extension, the love of God, through bodies—hungry little bodies, thirsty little bodies. Indeed, a couple of years ago on Mother’s Day, my then three-year-old drew a picture of two people smiling under a rainbow. I asked, “Oh, is that you and me?” “No,” she replied. “It’s me and Daddy. You’re at the grocery store.” I felt no disparagement by her comment, for Christ, too, feeds his hungry children: Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied (Luke 9:16). The feast of Corpus Christi, now called The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, enjoins us to reflect on our own need for physical nourishment and give thanks that God gives us himself to satisfy it. We become what we receive. I receive this gift of love—his Most Holy Body and Blood, so that I can become the body of Christ for those around me. As I go through my week, all I meet, and especially my family, are nurtured body and soul by the work of my hands.
To be sure, it is this gift of the Eucharist that compelled me to become Catholic. When I first attended Mass, I immediately loved the physicality of the liturgy—the genuflecting, kneeling, standing, crossing, bowing. Here was a way to worship God with my whole being—body and soul. As a Protestant, I could glorify God on the basketball court, but the body didn’t seem to have much of place within the walls of the church. However, the Catholic Church lives out the Christian understanding of the unity of body and soul within its liturgy. As I watched my Catholic friends receive the Eucharist with love and reverence, the doctrine of the Eucharist rang true in my heart, and I felt a deep longing to receive him in the Blessed Sacrament. A God who loves us enough to take on human flesh would, quite fittingly, continue to feed us not only with his Word in Holy Scripture, but with the Word become Flesh. Of all the gestures we might perform at Mass, opening our mouths to be fed by him is by far the most important. I take great comfort in the fact that even if I’ve been corralling a preschooler, chasing a toddler, or nursing a newborn during Mass, I am still fed and still satisfied with the simple gesture of opening my mouth.