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“This is my body, which is given for you”: reflecting on the Eucharistic parallel in motherhood – a book excerpt

“This is my body, which is given for you” (Lk 22:19).

These words of Jesus captured the heart of his mission. His life on earth would be given in sacrifice on the Cross for the sake of our redemption from the sins that separated us from God. For Catholics, these precious words also capture the institution of the Eucharist, the great sacrifice and sacrament considered to be the source and summit of their faith.

In these holy words, uttered in prayer by a priest at Mass, we cannot escape the “bodiliness” of God––the truly superlative way that Jesus continues to be present in the world today––that his flesh and blood would be miraculously concealed under the auspices of consecrated bread and wine that we consume in the Eucharist.

“This is my body, which is given for you.”

These words reveal the significant value and sacredness of our own bodies. And if you’ll forgive the informality—the bod—which God created for us is bodacious! Everything God does, he does for a reason. Our bodies have as much meaning in the eyes of God as our souls, to which they are remarkably joined.

Dictionaries list meanings for the word bodacious as “most excellent” or “remarkable,” or “audacious in a way that is considered admirable.” Some consider the word bodacious a portmanteau, a word that is a linguistic blend of two meanings, such as “bold” and “audacious.” How bold that our God would come to earth as a human person in a body, and how audacious that our bodies might somehow image the divine God who made us, and one day be glorified in heaven.

Our Creator creates the body; our Baptism consecrates the body. Through Baptism, the body is baptized and anointed, as the soul is marked with the sign of faith. A woman’s body is part of the Body of Christ. So, too, is a man’s body. We are grafted in our entirety into the Body of Christ.
Just as the body of Jesus exemplified his mission as the Christ, so, too, the mission of the Christian is lived in and through the body. We do all things—we carry out our mission—in our bodies and through our bodies. Indeed, our bodies belong to the Body of Christ.

Catholic churches have depictions of the body of Christ on the Cross—the crucifix—a man’s broken body hanging on a cross. We are confronted with the bodiliness of God. In his suffering and broken body, we can see our own wounds of body and soul. Through our sin and ignorance, we defile the body, revile the body, ignore the body, and denigrate the body. Yet in the crucifix, we also are confronted with the godliness of grace. Through Christ’s sacrifice, the deepest graces are found in the Body of Christ––graces to restore and heal the brokenness we find in ourselves.

“This is my body, which is given for you.”

The body of a woman signifies her mission; she is designed to mother.

Our female bodies point to the bodacious life-giving mission of women. The mission of the eye is to see. The mission of the tongue is to speak. The mission of the skin is to feel and protect. The mission of the uterus is to house new life. The mission of the breast is to nourish.

“This is my body, which is given for you.”

With all due reverence, these could be the same words that a mother might say to a child growing in her womb. A pregnancy is a concrete way to lay one’s life and body down for another person. (Now imagine the reality of the mother of multiples carrying more than one baby!) Recall the generosity and beauty of mutual self-giving, self-donating love between spouses. In pregnancy, a woman builds on this self-donating love. She makes a minute-by-minute gift of self to her unborn child.

I’ve mentioned my own pregnancy struggles. My third trimesters for my three pregnancies were as unpredictable as my first trimesters and filled with medical testing. I was poked and prodded and checked for blood-pressure issues, gestational diabetes, large-gestational-age issues, and more. These, plus the returning nausea and heartburn that I began each pregnancy with, brought bouts of worry and uncertainty for me.

Yet the Christian is called to rely on God: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7). Despite my temperament’s bent toward worry, I did something each Sunday that brought me great peace: I attended Mass and received the Lord in the Eucharist.
I lived to hear those words: “This is my body, which is given for you.” And I tried to join myself to the words as Christ joined himself to me through that sacrament.

As I received the nourishing host and the precious Blood at the altar, I imagined the Lord’s Body and Blood pumping through my veins, reaching through the umbilical cord where my unborn baby received nourishment. My heart was consoled that my baby “received” Christ in some miraculous way that was unknown to me from a scientific or biological standpoint, but in some kind of supernatural way, very much known to Jesus. As I was being touched by and nourished by Christ, so was my child. And with each Communion I made a deeper connection with the baby that was yet to be born.

Philosopher Alice von Hildebrand captures the immense privilege women have as they participate in the biological and spiritual processes of maternity. In The Privilege of Being a Woman, she explains:

The special role granted to women in procreation . . . is highlighted by the fact that as soon as she has conceived (and conception takes place hours after the marital embrace), God creates the soul of the new child in her body. This implies a direct “contact” between Him and the mother-to-be, a contact in which the father plays no role whatever. This contact gives the female body a note of sacredness, for any closeness between God and one of His creatures is stamped by His Holy Seal. This divine “touch” is . . . a special female privilege that every pregnant woman should gratefully acknowledge. (86.)

While pregnant, a woman has the unique privilege of carrying two souls in her body: hers and her child’s. My sense of this was magnified every time I received the Eucharist during pregnancy. Before I ever got to teach my children about Jesus or the faith, God had already visited my womb in creating the souls of my sons and daughter, and “touched” them in their creation and via the Eucharistic miracle. This armed me with confidence that I was never alone in caring for this tiny child in utero. It also indicated my growth as a spiritual mother, as praying for this child was a totally natural thing to do. Spiritual mothering was something I did not have the words for when I was young, though I was slowly intuiting the reality that physical and spiritual mothering was the way my body and soul were designed.

As a parent, my spiritual maternity was found in this longing in my heart that my children might know and receive the Lord and live in his will. With each successive pregnancy, this desire grew, and it motivated me to act in ways that would teach and lead my children to know Christ.

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings—not only towards her own child, but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 18)

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The preceding post was an excerpt from Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood.