Just a week ago, I was in Spain with 2 million (plus) other Catholics, most of them younger than I, to celebrate our faith at World Youth Day. It's an event that has been held every two to three years primarily aimed at young Catholics ages 16-35, though it impacts anyone in its perifory as well. This gathering has been held a dozen times now, in languages from Spanish to Tagolog, and attracts anywhere from half a million to a reported four million (in Phillipines).
The pinnacle of World Youth Day (WYD) is the prayer vigil with the Holy Father on Saturday night. The vigil is held in a field, often an old air base, that can sustain millions of pilgrims. Fields are set up in grid form, and registered pilgrims are assigned to a square on the grid, with a large overflow area at the back for the local or the curious.
At night, the Pope leads a prayer vigil, addresses the youth of the Church in a homily, and presides at Eucharistic Adoration. It is always stirring and beautiful.
This year, as I looked at the 500 year old monstrance in its gold and enamel housing, and saw the stunning purity of the white host cradled inside I truly experienced the Body of Christ in a new, deeper way. There was Jesus, crisp, shining, surrounded in the glow of ancient precious metals. And there on the field was simultanously the Body of Christ: ragtag, sweating, filthy, sinful, tired, humble, desirous, battered, and holy.
Two million bodies joined in the communion of that moment of adoration. Two million minds and hearts, two million mouths and four million legs, arms, ears... In the front half of the enormous crowd, the silence was deafening. And yet those father away, with little to no view of the monstrance, with no jumbotrons (bad planning) or speakers (violent winds), they too participated in the moment, in their own communion of wanting, of interacting, of busy-ness.
Such a contrast was breathtaking. At once Heaven and Earth were joined, and the still and vibrant beauty of Christ radiated through a crowd of millions, the Body of Christ feeding and sustaining the hearts and imaginations and bodies of the Body. In that stunning scene, I had a glimpse of the meaning of the body and the way in which we image Christ, not simply as one isolated being, but in the splendor of communion, in the fullness of the whole body- of the diverse and gifted and unique and unrepeatable pieces and the diverse and unrepeatable whole of that being, that humanity brought before Christ and in Christ and with Christ: male and female, old and young, poor and wealthy, American, Chinese, Brazilian...
In that moment the dirt and grime and smell of the bodies became something greater and something more whole. In the devotion of Eucharistic Adoration God becomes nearly tangible, but I don't think I will see the host in the monstrance the same again, without understanding that in some minute way, my own body participates in that holiness before me. And WYD has taught me that - the goodness of my body, the goodness of the millions of bodies is not separate from, but part and parcel of that One Body that was given for me.