When Words Fail: Abortion, Dante, and Corpus Christi

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then - I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it is. (Dante, Inferno 33.22-24)

With these words, Dante the Poet begins to recollect his encounter with Satan, frozen in ice at the bottom of Hell. Dante’s Satan is a mockery of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful: He has three faces in mockery of the Trinity, large wings that parody the Holy Spirit, and from his six eyes, “tears gus[h] together with a bloody froth” reminiscent of the Blood and Water which flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross (33.54).

But perhaps the most famous detail about the depiction of Satan in Inferno is the fact that he eternally chews on and “t[ears] to bits” Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (33.56). This act of gnashing and grinding human flesh is Satan’s horrific replication of the Eucharist and of Christ’s summons to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Through this depiction of Satan, Dante the Poet reveals that Satan is not capable of creating anything new. His most diabolical features are only crude illustrations of the divine mysteries. Satan cannot create; he can only twist truth and beauty. But he is a master of deception and his lies are so ugly that the Poet cannot even put them in words: “all words would fall short of what it is” (33.24).

Why on earth did I just make you read about Dante’s Commedia in June, 2022? Because I’ve spent over an hour now trying to find words to share just a little bit of what my heart is feeling as we anticipate the likely overturning of Roe vs Wade. The theme of inexpressibility, or adyneton, is a crucial theme throughout Dante’s Commedia. How do we little humans try to express the beauty, sorrow, and wonder for which we have no words, but only a gasp or tremor of the heart?

There are so many thoughts and emotions flying about our country right now. I teared up with joy last semester when my professor shared the news about the likely overturning of Roe. But I have also broken down over the atrocities committed against pro-lifers, pregnancy resource centers, and Catholic churches. The reality is that we don’t know what is going to happen for the rest of the Summer. And while this is SUCH an exciting time, the moment for which we have been waiting, working, and praying, it’s also a very uncertain and tense time.

And so, like any writer, I want to find words. I want to expose the way Satan has twisted the beauty of women and lied to them that they need abortion to succeed. I want to cry out again and again that abortion brutally murders an innocent baby. I want to reassure women who have had abortions that the Catholic Church does not hate them, but instead invites them to rest in the arms of an infinitely merciful Father. I want to do anything possible to protect the Eucharist and to make reparation for the sacrileges that have been committed in the last couple months.

But words often feel rather useless. So I turn to the Author of Life, to the Word Himself. What is His response to this dark, broken world, so twisted by the lies of Satan?

“This is my body.”

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As Catholics, we believe that the host consecrated by the priest is Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity. But I don’t think it’s an accident that the original name of the feast day is merely Corpus Christi – the body of Christ.

The world claims that the Catholic Church hates women and wants to control their bodies. But today the entire Church celebrates that God Himself has a body, even to this day. Through His life and death, Jesus revealed the gift of the human body. He comes to us at every Mass by touching our bodies with His own divine flesh.

At every Mass, He says, “This is my body,” and gives completely of Himself to every soul and every body of communicants. He holds nothing back because He loves you, the one reading this right now. He allows Himself to become completely weak, utterly helpless. To reach you, He must be carried down from the altar, placed by another on your hands or tongue. In the Eucharist, the almighty God is completely dependent on His creation. Because He loves you.

He has gazed on you with an everlasting love and chosen to be locked in a tabernacle until the end of time. Because He desires intimacy with you now, because He thirsts for you and the love that only you can offer. He is completely immobile so that in your moments of paralyzing fear or anxiety, you are not paralyzed alone. He is completely silent so that when you felt utterly alone and voiceless, He can be voiceless alongside you.

Even in their final excruciating moments on this earth, the silent, abandoned aborted are not abandoned. Because He is here.

Come what may this Summer, He will be here on the altar, in the tabernacle, in the monstrance. As the Church, the Body of Christ, is persecuted throughout the world, He is still here. He knew that He would be strewn over the altar by the thieves who stole the Brooklyn tabernacle. He knew that He would be horrifically mocked and abused by those who desecrate the Eucharist. He knew that so many would ignore Him during Communion, deny His true presence, leave Him alone and unloved. And yet He chose to give Himself to you in the Eucharist. He will never cease choosing to hand Himself over for you.

Satan can mock the Eucharist all he wants to. Peter Kreeft writes, “Abortion is the Antichrist’s demonic parody of the eucharist. That’s why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemous opposite meaning.” Satan can lead people to hate the Church, to commit atrocities against men, women, and children, to desecrate the Eucharist. But Christ assures us that “the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:11).

Dante does not only experience adyneton before Satan, but before the vision of God Himself in Paradise. As he recounts the act of beholding “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso 33.145), the Poet sighs, “How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set / against my thought!” (Paradiso 33.145, 33.121-122). I believe that this inexpressible awe is Christ’s invitation to us on the Feast of Corpus Christi. He calls us to shift our gaze from the horrors of Satan and onto the Beauty of the little white host. He calls us to fall on our knees before the Prime Mover made immobile in the Sacrament of Love.

Jesus invites us to listen for His voice and then gasp at the symphony of silence emanating from the tabernacle. For His Eucharistic love is so unfathomable that audible words cannot express it.

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