From Soul of Christ
The second petition of the Anima Christi prayer uses a phrase with multiple meanings: “Body of Christ.” This chapter focuses on how Jesus saves us by sharing our humanity.
Body of Christ…
The phrase, “Body of Christ,” acknowledges the mystery of the Incarnation: out of love for us, the Son of God took on our human nature. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on the limitations of our humanity to draw close to us and to save us. By itself, this one petition can be repeated as an act of heartfelt praise and thanksgiving.
With a human body, Jesus enters fully into our human experience. Although completely free from sin, he did not exempt himself from the limitations and sufferings of our human condition, including those caused by sin. During his life on Earth, Jesus underwent fatigue, hunger, thirst, hard work, the heat of the day, and the chill of the night.
- being raised in a family within a small community of an oppressed people;
- the joy of being a beloved son;
- apprehension and excitement as he began his unique mission;
- the sorrow of frequent misunderstandings and rejections;
- anger against injustice and oppression;
- the terrors and sufferings of a horrific death;
- the spiritual desolation of feeling abandoned by his Father;
- the full surrender of his life into the hands of the Father.
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, calls himself our Way and shows us how to be truly human, how to live as God’s beloved. Sometimes we might experience our humanness as a source of weakness, something to despise or wish away. Who of us would choose hunger or fatigue? Jesus did.
For love of us, Jesus became truly human, fully sharing in the human condition, including limits of time and space. The next time we are frustrated by our limitations – perhaps when we run out of time or energy – we can remember that the Son of God lived within those same limits. After only three years dedicated to his public mission, his Earthly life was cut short when he was thirty-three.
Every human experience – no matter how trivial, difficult, tragic, passionate, or senseless – can lead us to holiness when we seek to live it in union with Christ:
- When we are angry, we can remember Jesus chasing the moneymakers out of the sacred space of the Temple.
- When we seek relief from the burden of work, we remember Jesus laboring as an ordinary woodworker with his foster father, Joseph.
- When we grieve a great loss in our life, the tears of Jesus over the death of his friend Lazarus mingle with ours.
- When we suffer from want – physical or emotional – we remember Jesus having nowhere to lay his head, surrounded by goodhearted but clueless disciples.
- When we suffer misunderstanding or betrayal, we ask Jesus, betrayed with a kiss by one of his closest followers, to stay with us and teach us strength and forgiveness.
- When we feel overwhelmed, we can imitate Jesus, who sought out his Father in prayer in the depths of the night.
When we feel the misery of our human condition, we desire salvation. Sometimes, however, especially when things are going well, we may not feel the need to be saved.
Salvation is not a dry theological concept, nor is “being saved” a one-time event. This petition reminds us that we constantly need to be saved, just as we constantly need to be converted. Our wounded human condition offers us countless temptations to turn in on ourselves and away from God and others. Original sin deeply injured our human nature with enthralling tendencies toward the seven capital sins: pride, avarice, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Certain circumstances – like suffering, loss, transition, or addiction – intensify our tendency toward sin, despite our pretense that we only rarely need God.
The truth is that we need God every day. We rely on his providence for everything, even our next breath. If we just try to get by and stay comfortable, if we settle for mediocrity and avoid the challenges of life and the sufferings of others, we may not feel the need for God. If instead we seek to live our call to holiness, then we quickly realize how weak we are and how much we depend on Jesus, who constantly offers God’s saving love.
“To be saved” is to live in constant awareness of God’s love for us, and to faithfully choose to live as God’s beloved, even at great cost. “To be saved” is a daily – often moment-by-moment – choice to allow Jesus to love us and to love through us.
In the powerful 1996 film, Marvin’s Room, Bessie (portrayed by Diane Keaton) and Lee (portrayed by Meryl Streep) are two sisters who respond in opposite ways when their father suffers an incapacitating stroke. Lee flees home, while Bessie makes the difficult but loving choice to give up her own dreams and return home to take care of their father, who cannot sit up, walk, speak, or understand most of what’s going on around him. For seventeen years Bessie cares for her father full-time – years of loneliness, fatigue, and struggle. When Lee finally comes to visit, Bessie tries to explain how blessed she has been. Lee misunderstands and agrees that their dad loves Bessie very much – which does not make sense, since their father has not been able to express anything for almost twenty years. Bessie clarifies that she is blessed because she has been able to love someone else so much.
This is grace at work in the life of an ordinary woman who has discovered both her personal mission and her deepest fulfillment in self-sacrificing love. This is a woman who has allowed grace to save her, even in the long and lonely struggle of caring for her father.
Like Bessie, we are invited to see the challenges in our lives as opportunities to be saved, as openings for grace to take root more deeply in us. Body of Christ, save me! becomes not just a prayer of praise, but also of heartfelt longing.