Celebrating birthday on Corpus Christi a ‘special grace’

Bishop Barry C. Knestout leads Eucharistic adoration with priests and seminarians from across the diocese Feb. 11 in the Greater Richmond Convention Center. (Photo/Vy Barto)

As a twin, I grew up sharing my birthday each year. My brother Thomas and I usually celebrated the day with each other and with family.

During college, in the seminary, and as a priest, I would clear my calendar in anticipation of my birthday. There was only one thing I wanted on that day — a day off! No classes, no meetings, no appointments, no work. Just a day off.

That changed after I was named a bishop as my birthday almost always occurs during the U.S. bishops’ spring assembly. Thus, I often share my birthday with the work of the bishops’ conference. No day off.

Generally, birthdays are an opportunity to express our appreciation for somebody not for anything they’ve done, but just because of who they are. We honor them for no other reason than that we care about them, and we want to show our affection for them. We’re grateful that they are with us. That’s the ideal birthday — one that is focused on the individual.

But, from time to time, a birthday coincides with something else that is significant, e.g., another person’s birthday, an anniversary, a holy day or some other special event.

This year, the Feast of Corpus Christi — the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — fell on the same day as my birthday. It was a special grace to have a birthday coincide with this feast, which is part of a year in which we are focusing on the Eucharist. That focus is being observed by dioceses throughout the United States.

When our celebrations are shared with others, that is significant. It’s an experience of communion, a reminder that none of us is an island, none of us is isolated, none of us is the center of things.

Rather, all of us are part of a larger community, a network of individuals that we appreciate and on whom we rely. We can enhance each other’s lives with what we say and do.

In having a birthday on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I reflected upon the communion we share with God — a communion that’s made possible by Christ and his sacrifice. God enters our human experience; he accompanies us and shares in our humanity so we can share in his divinity.

That’s what Corpus Christi is about. We recognize, praise and worship God for his real presence, for his being with us and for his ongoing eucharistic presence in his Body and Blood. This is a source of awe and blessing. It’s God’s generosity, his love for us expressed through his desire to be one with us so we can be one with him.

This real presence is stated beautifully during the preparation of the offertory gifts when the priest places a drop of water into the wine and prays: “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

There is no greater gift anyone could receive than God giving his presence to us. Consider the magnitude of this gift: he gave himself to us so that we could be lifted into the fullness of life with him.

Just as birthdays recognize and celebrate a person merely for being, so, too, on Corpus Christi we recognize, celebrate, embrace and express gratitude for the presence of God.

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