The dorm space of the tiny college I attended was connected to the same building that housed our unlocked classrooms. This unusual arrangement allowed me to develop a unique test-taking preparation habit. I would always try to study in the same classroom where I knew an impending exam would soon be taking place. Through associating arcane facts with specific classroom furnishings, I could turn the room itself into a sort of legal cheat sheet. Once the test had commenced on the following day, I would stare long and hard at a garbage can, or a clock, or a piece of chalk, and before you know it, an illusive piece of information would step out from behind its hiding place. When my strategy worked, I felt like Tom Cruise sitting next to his card-counting savant brother in the casino scene of Rainman.
On big study nights, when I noticed that my midnight oil was running low, I would promptly extinguish the flame and go straight to bed. On nights like this, I would set my alarm and awaken the next day at 3:30, or 4:00 a.m. While robins breakfasted on plump, juicy night crawlers, Taster’s Choice mixed in a hot pot, and Peter Pan smeared on a Ritz chased away the dew and fueled my information retaining processes.
During these solitary study hours, my anxious mantra was the first part of the Procrastinator’s Prayer,
“God, I need you to be my savior again. Guide me to the right information. Unless you tell me otherwise, I am going to assume you want to help me.”
Right before a test I would try to swing into a chapel if I could find one, or transform an empty bathroom, classroom, or closet into a chapel. There I would pray the second part of the Procrastinator’s Prayer,
“God help me to retain and retrieve all that we’ve studied together. In some way, help all of this to build up your Kingdom.”
Looking back, I have noticed that those lonely study vigils were some of my sweetest college memories. Likewise, those professors who demanded the most sacrifice and work received the most respect and affection.
This Sunday, Catholics, and some other highly liturgical Christian denominations celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi (The Feast that commemorates the Eucharist). On this feast, twenty-two years ago, my girlfriend and I (later to become my wife) first exchanged the words, “I love you.” I always thought it was an amazing coincidence that we uttered those world-changing words on a night that celebrated communion. Through the lens of a lakeside, moonlit summer’s night, and the thrill of love reciprocated, this feast has always presented my wife and me with an opportunity to contemplate the profound intimacy implied in the Eucharist.
After more than twenty-two years of “I love you’s,” and nearly that many years of “I’m sorry’s,”…after approximately 14,000 shared meals (and consequently a medium sized mountain of dishes)…after 5000 baskets of laundry…after welcoming three children into the world…after saying goodbye to two parents…after contending with previously unimaginable bodily substances…after money worries…after cheers following the victories…after tears accompanying the defeats, something began to come into focus many Corpus Christi Feasts ago. As I watched ancient, old couples go up to communion, it occurred to me that, at the heart of every reception of the Eucharist, there is something that is also found in seed form at the core of every, “I love you” uttered with integrity: sacrificial love.
When an old school Catholic hears the word, “Corpus,” (i.e. Latin for “body”) contained in the phrase, “Corpus Christi,” he or she thinks of the primordial symbol of sacrificial love—the image of Christ’s body that you’ll find hanging on the wood in the sanctuary of every Catholic Church.
I still cherish the shimmering romantic lakeside memory of a Corpus Christi evening many years ago. But now, that love has germinated, sunk roots, produced fruit, and weathered a few storms. The mystery of our Eucharist, like a seasoned relationship, contains a reciprocal relationship between profound intimacy and sacrificial love.
In light of this week’s feast, I invite you to a kind of personal reminiscence over those relationships that have demanded sacrifice and work from you. Like a college student who quietly looks back with affection and gratitude on all the gallons of caffeine consumed, on the lonely hours of notes memorized, on the pennies pinched, and the professors who would accept nothing less than the best—I invite you to look back on a relationship seasoned with episode after episode of self-donating love. Chances are good that you will uncover a deep well of appreciation and gratitude.
A Corpus Christi Exercise:
Think of a relationship that has demanded something profound from you. Think of how that relationship caused you to grow in ways you could never have imagined. Whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for this life-changing relationship.
Next think of a current relationship that is demanding something profound from you. Take some time to kneel down and open your hands to God’s will and presence. Let your empty hands be a symbol of your need for an outpouring of God’s love in order to care for this person. Contemplate the poverty of human love. Fueled by the grace of a God who commingles divine life with our life, contemplate the unlimited nature of what is possible when we allow God’s love to flow through us, embracing, enfolding, lifting up every dimension of our personhood until we can name it all as holy. Allow yourself to reframe your challenging relationship as a gift that will unfold untold treasures over time.