As people of faith, we at times experience an encounter with Christ so powerful that it becomes a story shared over and over again for many years to come.
For me, one such encounter occurred as an undergraduate student at an urban Catholic campus.
“Come to me. Bring what is broken. I pour out my love.”
Almost since arriving at Marquette University, I volunteered in the jail ministry, visiting a young woman named Tawyna every other week. During our visits, she cried often, especially when I prayed with her. The encounters were difficult, but I knew I needed to be there—probably for my own benefit as much as hers. Sitting across the glass from this stranger who had become a sister in Christ, I often thought about how different Tawnya’s background was from my own, about my own privileged upbringing, and about how my life might have been different under other circumstances.
One week, I not only visited with Tawnya but also met a young girl named Ebony at a university-sponsored literacy program.
Ebony was severely behind in reading, to the extent that even homework instructions were totally beyond comprehension. Afterward, I found myself wondering: Where did Ebony live? Did she have any siblings? What school did she attend? Did she have a learning disability (and if so, had anyone diagnosed it?), or was her school just so under-resourced that no one had noticed she was far behind?
Tawnya and Ebony were on my mind as I walked across campus one evening. My heart felt heavy with the burdens they each carried. It occurred to me to stop in the university ministry chapel.
I remember feeling deep sadness as I walked through the student union to the hallway where the chapel was located. I remember entering and closing the door behind me. I remember the noisy bustle of the student union fading. An almost-tangible stillness seemed to surround me as I knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Silently but fervently, I began to share about Tawnya and Ebony. “I don’t know how to respond to this brokenness, Lord,” I prayed. “I don’t know what to do with the complicated systems that have led to the challenges of poverty in their daily lives—and those of so many others.”
As I gazed at the tabernacle, I recalled the broken body of Christ Jesus present in the Sacrament within. I realized that Jesus knew the brokenness and pain of all who suffer. After all, his own body experienced the literal brokenness of crucifixion.
“I imagined that love radiating from the tabernacle, filling the room, extending past the doors of the chapel, beyond the student union, through the streets, neighborhoods, and the entire city.”
As I prayed, I became aware of the presence of Christ’s love, immense and surrounding me. I imagined that love radiating from the tabernacle, filling the room, extending past the doors of the chapel, beyond the student union, through the streets, neighborhoods, and the entire city. From fancy office buildings to homeless shelters, jail cells, and under-resourced schools, I imagined Christ’s love touching everything and everyone. The power of Christ’s love extended from his body in the Eucharist to every corner of pain and suffering.
I felt these words in my heart:
Come to me.
Bring what is broken.
I pour out my love.
These phrases echoed in my mind: Come to me. Bring what is broken. I pour out my love. I gazed at the tabernacle for some time in prayer, allowing the words to echo in my heart and asking that it would be so.
But the conversation continued.
“When, Lord?” I asked. “How long must we wait? I know that you can transform all of this brokenness, but the challenges are so big, the structures that hold back Tawnya and Ebony are so immovable.”
I sensed a swift and piercing response in my heart:
Be my hands and feet.
Live my love.
I felt humbled and overwhelmed. Could it be that Christ would call me to be part of his mission—his holy mission of working to transform what impedes the flourishing of his beloved children?
Be my hands and feet. Live my love. Transform injustice.
Looking back at this moment now, those words seem to anticipate others that I would later study and seek to embody in ministry:
The Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world.
– Pope Benedict XVI, The Sacrament of Charity, no. 88.
The presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of his people becomes an undertaking of solidarity, a compelling force for inner renewal, an inspiration to change the structures of sin in which individuals, communities and at times entire peoples are entangled.
– St. John Paul II, On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy, no. 73
“We can work to transform structures that prevent God’s children from thriving: Poverty. Racism. Consumerism. Exploitation. Violence.”
Nourished by the Eucharist, we can respond to this call to be bread that is broken.
We can work to transform structures that prevent God’s children from thriving: Poverty. Racism. Consumerism. Exploitation. Violence.
For me, the work of solidarity has been possible through service, advocacy, parish social ministry, and accompaniment of low-income families through the work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. There are many avenues to encounter, learn and act.
Currently, parishes discuss the urgent challenge of getting Catholics back to church. It is essential that we return in order to receive Christ’s body in the Eucharist. It is also essential that, nourished by this gift, we then become bread broken for others, working across our divisions to heal the inequalities which have only become more apparent during the pandemic.
Pope Francis asks, “How do I live the Eucharist?” As the Church kicks off a multi-year Eucharistic revival, let us go forth, inspired by the Eucharist. Let us be his hands and feet, live his love, and transform injustice. It’s how we live the Eucharist.
Note: For purposes of privacy, the names of the individuals mentioned in this reflection were changed.
Jill Rauh serves as Director of the Office of Education & Outreach for the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development (JPHD) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This office helps Catholics pray, encounter, and act, inspired by the social teachings of the Church. Read JPHD’s reflections on Eucharist and Social Mission: Body of Christ, Broken for the World and on The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.