The Many Colors of the Body of Christ: A Meditation for Corpus Christi

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Views Mickey McGrath / June 18, 2022 Print this:
(Image courtesy of Br. Mickey McGrath. Used with permission. bromickeymcgrath.com)

When the churches were closed for worship at the outset of the pandemic, Sunday Mass was live streamed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where I live in community with my fellow Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Camden, NJ. I would bring my sketchbook to Mass so I could sketch and paint my experiences of this new liturgical reality: a handful of faithful seekers sharing the Eucharist in a large and empty church, while everyone else watched it almost like a reality-TV show. It inspired a whole new series of paintings, some of which featured Communion wafers and monstrances expressing my new understanding of Eucharist and worship. 

Every Sunday, I was the lector at these livestreamed Masses. When it came time for Communion, it was my job to invite the viewers participating at home to read along with me the prayer that appeared on their TV screens. This prayer invited the faithful-but-absent assembly to make a “spiritual communion” since they were deprived of the opportunity to receive a hands-on “sacramental communion” in church. 

Each week I found myself wondering how this “spiritual communion” business works. Can people be denied “spiritual communion” if they are divorced or gay? How about if they have been “non-practicing” or hadn’t been to confession for decades? What does it say about Mass and “sacramental” Holy Communion if, for some folks, it is just as effective on TV in a “spiritual” form, where they can access it wearing sweatpants in an easy chair while sipping a Bloody Mary instead of the Blood of Christ? Why don’t many Catholics—if not most, according to recent statistics—believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the first place—whether He appears in church or their living rooms?

These pandemic times have given us food for all kinds of thoughts and for me, one of them is the real purpose and meaning of Eucharist, the one that Jesus inaugurated at the Last Supper, right before he sat on the floor and washed everyone’s feet, and which we have called to mind for the next 21 centuries. That is very different from the Holy Communion which has been dangled out there as a “Sunday obligation” reserved for devout, unquestioning believers, or worse, a politically motivated reward and punishment scheme for entrance into heaven. 

The pandemic, with all its opportunities for letting go of the old and welcoming the uncertain new, has helped me to see with fresh eyes the very real presence of the Body of Christ in the weary faces of the homeless folks who come to our kitchen door for a sandwich, a smile, and unseen life-giving bread. I came to see even the annoying ones as living monstrances. My creative response as an artist of faith has been to re-vision my ever-expanding experience of the Body of Christ and to show it in all its dirty yet beautiful flesh-and-blood diversity. 

Please do not use this image without permission.
(Image courtesy of Br. Mickey McGrath. Used with permission. bromickeymcgrath.com)

My multicolored communion hosts surrounded by the rainbow spectrum of colors spring from this awakened sense of Christ’s Body. The institutional, clerically centered Church—for which I have never had a particular devotion—hasn’t always been Christ-like in its teachings and practices. Just ask the countless people of many colors and cultures who were enslaved by Catholic bishops and members of religious orders in the American South, even after Rome condemned slavery; who were forced into Baptism and denied full and equal access to the sacraments all over the ethnically diverse world; whose Native languages and traditions were violently obliterated in “Christian” boarding schools; or who are still told today—in 2022!—that their sexual identity as LGBTQ children of God is nothing more than a sinful disorder. 

All of it is done in the name of Jesus who, correct me if I am wrong, rather enjoyed the company of people in the margins. My prayerful response as a creative spirit is to make something beautiful from the broken pieces of my confidence in the institutional church. Recently, when I learned of gay teachers being fired from Catholic schools or Pride and BLM flags being removed from church facilities, I encircled some circular hosts with a rainbow and illuminated familiar words from the Gospel with fresh and colorful calligraphy.

Even as I wrote this article, I learned that a retreat for Catholic LGBTQ folks that I have been asked to direct next fall has been cancelled by the local bishop and the “Catholic” retreat center that had agreed to host it. Really? A retreat for delightful, loving spirits who simply want to deepen their relationship with Jesus? But guess what? The organizers will find a better, worthier venue and I will turn my anger-tinged heartbreak into yet another icon of the multi-colored Body of Christ. Because I believe beauty will indeed save the world. One of these days.

“Come to me, all you who are hungry and weary and imperfect and sinful; who are in grief over the death of a loved one or fear change in an unknown future. Come to me, you who wish desperately to step beyond the margins of rejection and abuse which you have been forced to endure. Come to me, all of you whose spirits need a lift, a gentle reminder in the midst of your sin-sick fears and wretched miseries that you are not alone, that everything is going to be okay, and that I continue to love you and will always forgive your sins and shortcomings, even if you disagree with some doctrines and dogmas or traditions which no longer feel relevant in your world today. Come to me as one universal, multi-colored, multi-gendered human body made in my beautifully diverse image and likeness…And I will give you comfort and rest.”

One of my favorite morsels of wisdom from St. Francis de Sales is his quote “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.” The depth and wisdom of that very familiar quote has been a comforting source of prayer and contemplation throughout my life as a Religious Brother and continues to evolve in significance as I grow older, gentler, and hopefully wiser.  So, in one of my digital drawings seen here I surrounded a monstrance with those words, a monstrance containing the ethnically multi-colored, rainbow-highlighted Bread of Life.

(Image courtesy of Br. Mickey McGrath. Used with permission. bromickeymcgrath.com)

“Come to me,” Jesus eternally says. “Come to me exactly as you are, not as others have said you are supposed to be. Come to me, your face to my face and your heart to my heart; your spirit as free as a bird flying forward in hope, not stuck in the thorny brambles of a wretched past.” 

Our Church is open once again and the masking tape marking out safely distanced seating is gone from the pews. And with a fresh pair of eyes, I once again observe the unmasked, multi-hued faces of fellow parishioners standing in line, their hands cupped to receive the Bread of Life. They bless me with renewed wonder, compassion and a whole lot of determination. We are one human family walking forward together in faith, hope, and love. The whole church is a monstrance, the entire cosmos a tabernacle. To live in love, not fear is all Jesus asks of us—to which we, as the Body of Christ, humbly respond, “Amen.”

Mickey McGrath

Mickey O'Neill McGrath is a Religious Brother in the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

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27 Comments
  1. I am absolutely positive that this is the best thing i’m going to hear about the BODY OF CHRIST for a long time maybe ever .. Thank you Brother Mickey

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    • Josephine, Thank you so much for your kind words.

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    • Yes, thank you, Namaste!

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    • Brother Mickey, your art always delights my senses and feeds my faith. In a Church intent on becoming a museum, your work shows that it can be a fruitful garden where all things are possible with God. Thank you for accepting God’s invitation to be a co-creator.

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  2. Thank you, Brother Mickey

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  3. Love this message. So glad it was shared with me.

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    • Wonderful work… So much akin to the generosity and great charity of the work of Sr. Corita Kent (of blessed memory)! Is there a site were we might see more of your work, Brother?

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      • Thanks for that: Corita is one of my Art Heroes!!!! you can see my work at bromickeymcgrath.com and trinity stores.com

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  4. We just attended a Corpus Christi procession around our parish and school after Mass today. Your article is by far the most beautiful part of today. Thank you Br. Mickey, all the way from So Cal!

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  5. Oh Brother Mickey you are so wise. The only reason I remain a Catholic is the Eucharist. You have such an understanding of it.

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    • Brother Mickey, I have shared this with an Catholic LGBTQ+ & Allies group I help to support and with a small group of late middle aged women who have been meeting for Scripture on Sunday mornings during the pandemic. Your words will speak to both groups, because they do to me. You speak of the hunger we all feel, and you seek to learn what the pandemic has made clear to us. May God continue to bless your work and give you the grace to love and speak to those who see things differently and try to silence you.

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  6. Beautiful words, beautiful art, beautiful human being! “…I believe (this kind of) beauty will indeed save the world.”

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  7. Beautiful and inspiring… to love more deeply we must ‘be not afraid’ and see the face of God in every soul, trusting in God’s providence when fear attempts to block the Holy Spirit

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  8. Ah, Mickey, your words are as much an prophetic art form as your glorious paintings. You touched my heart at such a deep level. Thank you for so generously sharing of your transparent vulnerability and inviting us in. We should have conversation in another venue.

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    • Our Church is Closing today. I thank you for your wonderful words and being an older member of the LGBTQ community,I am comforted to know what I am a part of the Eucharist, and no one can take that away from me. God Bless you 🙏.

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  9. Thank you Mickey for lifting up the rainbow monstrance once again. Many lessons from the pandemic are about real presence; you have helped us to understand that reality more deeply. ❤️

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  10. Exactly the Spirit-filled words I needed this holy day! Thank you Brother Mickey for your ministry and your art 🙂

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  11. Thank you Brother McGrath, for the blessing of your art. In the years since I met you briefly at the Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis at Sr. Suzanne’s profession, I have been sometimes lead and sometimes followed by your creations. I am always grateful for your efforts and the love that they show.

    Peace always!

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    • Any friend of Sr. Suzanne’s is friend of mine!:)

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  12. Thank you Brother Mickey! I am just reading this before our 5pm Inclusive Catholic Liturgy and am so lifted up! I think you have provided me with our theme for next Sunday!!!

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    • You go, Ann!!!!

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  13. As a child of God, cradle Catholic, woman educated in the Catholic school system, former Catholic school teacher, and mother of 3 children also educated in the Catholic school system (2 of whom are part of the LGBTQ community), this made me weep with joy. It is a constant struggle to stay in the Church when my children are seen as disordered and would not be allowed to marry in the Church that helped form them. I continue to hope that one day the Church will truly be inclusive. Thank you for once again giving me a sliver of hope. Your words and art are beautiful, a true gift from God.

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  14. Yes, beauty will save the world. Thank God for our artists whose vocation to feel the suffering and pain of the body of Christ participates in offering that beauty to us. Thank you, dear Brother!

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  15. Thank you, Mickey. A beautiful meditation for today and tomorrow.

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  16. Please, please continue to offer hope through the beauty of your art and the wisdom of your words. I am so grateful that I had access to this post and will share it with others who desperately search for leaders in our church who are not motivated by power and entrenched in clericalism.

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  17. Beautiful, Mickey. Beautiful words, beautiful images. Thank you!

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