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Juneteenth and Corpus Christi

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

There is a significance that should not go unacknowledged in that Juneteenth and the Feast of Corpus Christi are being celebrated on the same Sunday this year.

Juneteenth is the celebration of when the last enslaved Black persons in the U.S. were told of their freedom. Although the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, it was not implemented in places under Confederate control, and as such, enslaved people in Texas were not freed until two and a half years later.1 On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people were free by executive decree.2

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

Slave owners had been migrating to Texas since the capture of New Orleans in 1862 in order to evade Union control.3 It is not surprising, then, to learn that plantation owners did not readily accept the decree handed down on June 19.4 Instead, they decided if, when, and how to announce the news of emancipation, often waiting for a government agent to arrive to deliver the news or until after the season's harvest.5 The plantation owners who did implement the decree of freedom did so at a high risk -- some masters and mistresses would beat their slaves into continuing to work, and many freed people were lynched for trying to leave the South.6

The name "Juneteenth" was coined from the date of the executive decree - June 19, 1865.7 Although not an end to the terror and violence of racism against Black persons in the United States, the day provided a pillar for the community of "freed" persons to rally around, "transforming June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite."8

Today, Sunday, June 19, 2022, Catholics across the world gathered at Mass to celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also referred to as the Feast of Corpus Christi, Latin for "the Body of Christ." So much of our Catholic faith is rooted in the belief that we are the Body of Christ - not only through the Eucharist but by our Baptismal call. Through Christ, we are One.

Without question, "Jesus's body was a place of action. In this body, Jesus healed, fed, forgave, called, and taught. Through Jesus's body, humanity felt God's love."9 It was in this body, this Word Made Flesh, that Jesus "made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." Jn 1:14. Each Sunday when we attend Mass as one Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ, we recite these words that continue to give me pause, week after week:

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed."

The Kingdom is that of healing, feeding, forgiving, calling, teacher. The Kingdom is embodied by the Beatitudes. The Kingdom is where we are One. What a great and humble thing it is to ask, that Earth be as it is in Heaven. How very unheavenly our earth currently is.

As I reflect on our nation's (ongoing) history of slavery, in particular juxtaposed with the Body of Christ, I meditate on several questions I also pose to you:

In what ways have I prevented freedom from manifesting? In what ways have I gotten in the way of realizing racial justice? How have I cowered in fear for the sake of preserving my comfort in lieu of making a more equitable, just world for others? When have I maintained the status quo for our own benefit, at the expense or harm of others?

Have I recognized these acts and omissions as a denial of the Spirit of Christ, a self-inflicted wound to the Body of Christ in which and through which we are all One?

How long did the Catholic Church - both lay and ordained, both institutionally and individually - cling to slavery, despite its inherent toxicity to the Body of Christ? How often do Catholics and the Church perpetuate racism by failing speak out against current injustices, such as mass incarceration, wage disparities, and underfunded education?

On the road to Damascus to arrest and execute followers of Jesus, Paul was shaken to the ground when he heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Bewildered and fallen, Paul cried out, "Who are you, Lord?" In reply, he heard, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Acts 9:4-5. By persecuting members of the Church - members of the corpus Christi, the Body of Christ - Paul persecuted Jesus.10

By persecuting Black bodies - slavery, police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline - we are persecuting Jesus.

This Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, this Juneteenth, may we reflect and pray both over how we have harmed the Body of Christ through our complicity in racist systems and over how we may feed the Body of Christ through anti-racist pursuits.




1 "The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth," National Museum of African American History & Culture. 19 June 2019.

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3 Gates, Henry Louis Jr. "What Is Juneteenth?" (Originally posted on The Root).

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9 Simone, Michael. "Becoming the Body of Christ," America Magazine. 2 June 2017.

10 Ryland, Fr. Ray. "The Body of Christ is a Literal Reality in the Church," St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. 4 Sept 2018.

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