Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Today, we invite you to explore how Catholic nuns are connecting eucharistic theology with ecological eating; engage with Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, the “Green Patriarch” of the Eastern Orthodox Church and their depictions of a sacramental worldview; and embody an eco-spiritual approach to eating in your own life through the Freedom Farm Community and the Genesis Farm.
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Moses told the people,
“Remember how for forty years now
the Most High, YHWH, has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction and find out
whether or not it was your intention to keep the commandments.
You were afflicted with hunger,
and then fed with manna, a food unknown to you,
in order to show you that not by bread alone do you live,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of YHWH.
“Do not become haughty of heart and unmindful of YHWH,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery;
who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents
and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground;
who brought forth water from the flinty rock
and fed you in the desert with manna,
a food unknown to your ancestors,
that YHWH might afflict you and test you,
but also make you prosperous in the end.”
Response: Glorify the Creator, O Jerusalem.
Glorify the Creator, O Jerusalem; / praise Your God, O Zion.
For God has strengthened the bars of your gates;
And has blessed your children within you.
R: Glorify the Creator, O Jerusalem.
God has granted peace in your borders, / and with the best of wheat fills you.
God sends forth a command to the earth; / swiftly runs the word.
R: Glorify the Creator, O Jerusalem.
God has proclaimed a word to Jacob, / statutes and ordinances to Israel.
God has not done thus for any other nation;
Ordinances God has not made known to them. Alleluia.
R: Glorify the Creator, O Jerusalem.
The cup that we bless — is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?
The bread we break — is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one, we who are many are one body,
for we all partake of the one loaf.
“I myself am the living bread come down from heaven.
If any eat this bread they will live forever;
the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Temple authorities then began to argue with one another.
“How can he give us his flesh to eat?”
“The truth of the matter is,
if you do not eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Chosen One,
you will not have life in you.
Those who do eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life,
and I will raise them up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
Everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in them.
Just as the living Abba God sent me and I have life because of Abba God,
so those who feed on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
It is not the kind of bread your ancestors ate, for they died.
Whoever eats this kind of bread will live forever.”
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
Eucharistic theology and ecological eating
In Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (2007), Sarah McFarland Taylor offers a vivid ethnographic analysis of a number of communities of Roman Catholic sisters who are committed to actively embodying ecological theology. McFarland Taylor lifts up the witness and work of a web of communities in North America, including Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey. As these communities of women religious work to creatively inhabit and renew our wounded planet, they simultaneously work to creatively inhabit and renew the Church. McFarland Taylor observes that these “green sisters” represent a movement that “‘reinhabits’ culturally resonant heirlooms of Catholic tradition and vowed religious life, while opening up those traditions to new and imaginative interpretations” (ix). The sisters innovatively engage with the Catholic tradition in order to live in more intimate, sustainable, and just relationships with one another and with the created world. In the process, the sisters explore the potential for developing practices that unlock novel ethical and spiritual potential. We see a concrete example of this creative, imaginative “reinhabiting” in the way in which the sisters apply sacramental language to the process of growing, cooking, and eating food.
A centrally significant practice for the sisters is the act of eating, which many of them take to be a sacramental act. The communities that McFarland Taylor attends to are extremely intentional about the process of growing and consuming food. Food serves as an especially powerful site for sensing and celebrating their rootedness in the land, which is itself rooted in God. The sisters view food as a powerful means for healing our broken relationships with creation. For instance, Sister Miriam MacGillis of Genesis Farm proposes that “it has become clear to me that the concept of food itself is key to the transformation of our ecological crisis” (161). For MacGillis, food is the doorway to ecological transformation, and in order to relate to food properly we must be sensitized to its divine dimension. MacGillis suggests that “unless our human species can open itself to the contemplation of food as a holy mystery through which we eat ourselves into existence, then the meaning of existence will continue to elude us” (161).
To eat, MacGillis proposes, is to engage in a deeply spiritual act; food is not merely “fuel” for our work in the world, but an encounter with the Divine in and through the world (161). While many of the green sisters celebrate the sacramentality of food, they simultaneously lament the desecration of creation through unjust and unsustainable eating practices. For instance, many of the sisters resist industrial farming practices and promote plant-based, pesticide-free alternatives.
One way for Catholics to attune to food as a site for divine encounter, rather than fuel for our work in the world, is to gain inspiration from our participation in the Eucharist. Our ritual participation in the Eucharist, and our intimate encounter with God in this particular act of eating, can open us to a broader sacramental worldview, which invites us to encounter God in every element of creation. In fact, Sr. Miriam MacGillis turns to sacramental language in order to convey her sense of the sacred nature of the acts of cooking and eating. Cooking is “eucharistic” for MacGillis (162). “Do we know how to cook?….to be a priest in the midst of this transubstantiation of food into the community?,” she asks (162). Here, MacGillis creatively applies theological language in order to convey the sacred nature of cooking and eating, as practices that can promote communion.
MacGillis powerfully conveys a particularly revelatory experience she had while contemplatively consuming a bowl of homemade vegetarian chili. It struck her, suddenly, that the bowl “really held rock and soil, minerals and water, and the energy and heat of the stars” (174). This meal marked the convergence of her life with the life of the universe. Every ingredient in MacGillis’s chili began as “seeds that I inserted into the soil” (174). MacGillis sensed that these seeds, after being transformed into food, became “my blood, my bones, my sight, my movement, my thoughts, my prayers” (174). For MacGillis, this bowl of chili served as the concrete site for her own encounter with both creation and Creator. “I was overwhelmed,” she writes, by the “limitless generosity of the universe and its Creator” (174). McGillis’s contemplative approach to food, and her eco-spiritual eating experiences, add a personal dimension and an embodied concreteness to the theological vision of a “sacramental worldview.”
As we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, and as we engage with scriptural passages that invite us into the mystery of the Eucharist, may we take Sr. Miriam McGillis’s witness to heart. May our participation in the Eucharist inspire us to develop a deepening sensitivity to the sacramental nature of our daily acts of relating to food: whether through cooking, growing, harvesting, cleaning, eating, or all of the above.
Commentary by Jim Robinson
Engage Catholic Social Teaching
In Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home (2015), Pope Francis illustrates the sacramental nature of the cosmos as well as the cosmic nature of the sacraments. In harmony with the longstanding Ignatian commitment to “find God in all things,” Francis conceives of creation as a reality that “unfolds in God, who fills it completely” (233). Throughout his encyclical, Francis fleshes out a sacramental worldview, which takes every element of creation to be capable of conveying the presence of God. In the process, Francis draws directly on the insights of Patriarch Bartholomew, the “Green Patriarch” of the Eastern Orthodox Church. For instance, Francis quotes Bartholomew’s assertion that “as Christians, we are also called ‘to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale” and that “it is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet’” (9). These words, offered by Bartholomew and echoed by Francis, invite Christians to relate to creation with deep reverence.
Like many of the green sisters, Francis’s sensitivity to the awe-inspiring sacramentality of creation coincides with an equally robust sensitivity to the horror-inducing desecration of creation. While Francis invites his readers to celebrate the splendor of our world, he simultaneously invites us to undergo an “ecological conversion” (216-221). Francis implores his readers to attend to the ways in which the “violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (2). Echoing Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, he implores us to attend to the eco-social crisis, to “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49).
Francis contextualizes the Church’s sacraments within this wider sacramental worldview. For Francis, the sacraments serve as a “privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life” (235). In this respect, the sacraments are particularly powerful instances in which God’s presence expresses itself in creation. The sacraments are particularly vibrant sites in which creation can be lifted up to God and in which God’s presence and grace can be sensed and celebrated. Francis specifically highlights the Eucharist, as the ritual in which we encounter the radical and intimate presence of God. For Francis, God “in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter” (236). The Eucharist conveys that God “comes not from above, but from within” (236). While the Eucharist is particular, intimate, and interior, it is simultaneously cosmic. In fact, Francis identifies the Eucharist as “an act of cosmic love,” which “embraces and penetrates all creation” (236).
While the Eucharist is an invitation into intimacy with the God Who is in all things, it is simultaneously a stimulus for transformation. It is a “source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation” (236).
A Contemplative Exercise
Inspired by the embodied witness of Sr. Miriam MacGillis, as well as the theological insights of Laudato si’, we might practice a sacramental approach to eating on this feast of Corpus Christi. As we prepare our meals, and as we eat them, may we bring to mind Patriarch Bartholomew’s words, quoted by Pope Francis in Laudato si’, that “as Christians, we are…called ‘to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale” and that “it is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.’” May our enhanced sensitivity to the sacramental nature of our food inform an enhanced sensitivity to the desecration caused by unjust and unsustainable approaches to agriculture and eating, as well as a willingness to resist the systems that stabilize this desecration. For instance, our sensitivity to the sacramental nature of the tomato in our salad might inform our sensitivity to the unjust agricultural practices which the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are fighting to end. As we engage in a contemplative approach to eating, we might draw inspiration from the following short article by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung, “How to Eat an Apple.”
You can find the article here: https://www.lionsroar.com/savor/
Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis, O.P. is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey. She co-founded Genesis Farm, an ecological learning center in Blairstown, New Jersey, in 1980, with the sponsorship of her congregation.
Genesis Farm, which is located on 226 acres of preserved farmland, was an early contributor to the Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. Inspired by the legacy and writings of geologian and cultural historian Father Thomas Berry, Genesis Farm is committed to the new cosmology, which understands the earth as an evolving community of life within an evolving cosmos. In 2005, Sr. Miriam received the Thomas Berry Award from the Center for Respect for Life and the Environment. Genesis Farm is animated by the insight that “the scientifically-based story of the Universe offers profound insights into our public, personal and spiritual lives.”
For more information on Genesis Farm, see: http://www.genesisfarm.org/about.taf
For a fuller biography of Sr. Miriam, see:
Freedom Farm is a Christian community located in Middletown, New York. It was co-founded in 2004 by Edgar Hayes and Ann Rader, who also serve on the Mission Council of Agape Community in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Freedom Farm’s motto is “growing in faith,” which they understand and apply in two intertwining senses: they are committed to actively cultivating the faith of community members and visitors, and they are committed to growing healthy and sustainable food from a faith-based perspective.
When considering the roots of Freedom Farm, Edgar Hayes, who grew up in Harlem and Brooklyn, highlights the transformational experience of being at Agape Community on a retreat as a college student, and being amazed when someone harvested food directly from the garden, brought it into the kitchen, and prepared it as a meal. He also highlights inspiration that he and his wife Ann gained from a training program at Alex Haley Farm.
Freedom Farm’s name was derived from the Freedom School movement of the 1960’s, which emerged during the Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. Freedom Farm is committed to building a just and sustainable community, and food plays a pivotal role in this process. For instance, members of Freedom Farm work closely with students coming from urban spaces, to teach them through retreats and immersion programs about justice, food, and faith. In addition to this, through Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Gleaning/ Food Access program, Freedom Farm supplies fresh produce to those in need.
To view “Embodying Eco-Justice at Freedom Farm: A Conversation with Edgar Hayes” please click here: https://agapecommunity.org/recording-of-embodying-eco-justice-at-freedom-farm-a-conversation-with-edgar-hayes/
In this icon, Fr. John Guiliani depicts Christ as intimately linked to the bounty of the earth and cosmos. Clouds and stars, rocks and streams and leaves, bread and grapes converge in constituting the mystical body of Christ. The icon suggests that in Christ we can find deep intimacy with creation, and that in creation we can find deep intimacy with Christ.