The challenge of being the Body of Christ
By Moises Sandoval
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) challenges us to this day with a poem titled "Christ Has No Body," quoted recently by Lynn Campbell, executive director of the Office of Social Justice Ministry of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut:
"Christ has no body but yours,/ No hands, no feet on earth, but yours,/ Yours are the eyes with which he looks/ Compassion on this world,/ Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,/ Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world./ Yours are the eyes, you are his body./ Christ has no body now but yours."
That there are countless people worldwide who are indeed Christ's body is what gives all of us hope. They would not, however, presume to identify themselves as Christ's body. They are too humble and moreover many of them are of different faiths and, I presume, some of no faith.
But all of them have deep within themselves the disposition to respond to the challenges of Matthew 25: Feed the hungry, aid the sick, help those in prison, comfort the afflicted …
What they do is often unsung, as the help that Campbell and her staff provided for Luis Barrios, a Guatemalan recently spared deportation. "Our immigration team was able to connect Mr. Barrios with community organizers and lawyers. Through their efforts, Mr. Barrios is celebrating the joy of continuing to live with his family for two more years before seeking permission to stay again."
But at other times it can be action taken at great risk, as the mission of the Syrian American Medical Society, whose physicians serve in the front lines of Syria's civil war.
Scott Pelley, formerly of CBS Evening News, went to Syria and spoke to Dr. Samer Atar, a leading Chicago orthopedic surgeon, who said: "You work with the understanding that you might find yourself dead, or ... crippled or dismembered ... because the bombs would land so close they'd ... knock you off your feet."
Since 2011, the Syrian American Medical Society has sent more than 100 doctors to Syria and raised more than $97 million dollars in aid.
A recent issue of Columbia magazine, published by Columbia University, described the work of its Justice-in-Education Initiative, which offers college classes in various New York prisons.
Professor Laura Ciolkowski, who teaches in the program, said: "Prison is dehumanizing. It's objectifying, and the value of entering a classroom, a space in which you are a human being, not a prisoner, is absolutely incalculable." She adds that outside the classroom, life is just about the past, what they did that got them to prison. "Inside the classroom, they are human beings with a future ... with the ability to think outside themselves."
The initiative was, in part, founded by women who got the opportunity to get a college education during the long years they were incarcerated for serious crimes and who now teach in the program, helping prisoners recover their humanity.
Recently, too, Maddy Pliskin, a 17-year-old student in Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, wrote an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant hoping that former first lady Michelle Obama's initiative, Let Girls Learn, will survive. It tears down barriers to women's education around the world, she wrote, adding that more than 62 million girls are not in school. Education would save the lives of 98,000 women who die in childbirth.
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