I was all set to write a different reflection today. It was already half-finished this morning. Then I went to church at St. Elizabeth’s.
My regular parish is St. Michael’s in Richmond’s well-heeled, mostly upper middle class West End. It’s a parish that boasts more than 2,000 families, including our former Republican state governor.
St. Mike’s shares a pastor and parochial vicar with St. Elizabeth’s – a tiny African American Catholic parish in Richmond’s northeast community of Highland Park, which couldn’t be more different from the West End, demographically, economically, or otherwise. St. E’s boasts a fantastic gospel choir, and one of Virginia’s most recent Democrat governor’s has been a member there since his days on city council 20 years ago.
Today both parishes celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. I was not familiar with the gospel music at St. E’s, and that made me feel a bit out of place. But then we got to the part where we all recited the Creed, and suddenly I was united with strangers and it struck me: this is what it means to be the Body of Christ.
In today’s brief reading from his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul says, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” Two politicians who have both held the highest executive office in the state of Virginia hear the same homilies from the same priests and are fed at the same table along with the rest of us. Wealthy and humble. Black and white. Conservative and progressive. United in the Sacrament.
It was a powerful reminder of why I am Catholic when there are so many reasons why I could seek religious expression elsewhere. I certainly am not in lock step with the faith I profess by any stretch. But as I was taught in Catholic grade school, the word “catholic” means “universal.” It means that whatever it is that makes us diverse is not nearly as powerful as what makes us the same – the need for community, and the need for a Savior.
At communion, we sang “I Am The Bread of Life.” It’s my generation’s version of the quintessential Catholic hymn. To unite in song with strangers who welcomed me was deeply moving. I can’t wait to return.