Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Body of Christ

The New Testament readings for the last 2 Sundays have been from 1 Corinthians 12. That is the beautiful passage on spiritual gifts and the extended analogy comparing the church to the body of Christ. There is so much in this analogy. We latch onto the notion that we all have gifts. We like to hear that. We all have an important role in the church and that is true. 

Yet it is just as important to know there are gifts we don't have. Learning to celebrate the gifts of others and to praise God for them rather than to wish we had them. It is so easy to sing a beautiful song and wish you had written it or hear an amazing sermon and wish you were giving it. You end up putting yourself in the centre instead of Jesus being in the centre. It is His body not yours or mine.

Pascal contributes one more thought to this. He talks about the purpose of body parts. Think of a human kidney. What purpose does it have? It's purpose can only be described in relation to the body. Being a body part is not something that is an important part of its existence. It is everything. Without the body a kidney makes no sense. 

His point is we need to be like that with the church. It should not be a part of our life. It should be our life. Our entire understanding of who we are should be in relation to the church. We simply serve the church. Nothing else matters. How many of us really get that?

Then there is the matter of the head. St Paul could have said the head is Christ. He does not. The whole body is Christ. The head is a part of the body. That is the head is another person. A person ordained by Jesus to be the head. This seems important to me because as a protestant I was told that priests, bishops and the pope don't really have a role if we have a proper understanding of church. That is that we are all supposed to be talking to Jesus and any authority we accept should be judged by us to be consistent with that. Yet Paul seems to think the body has a head. That is human leadership that we did not choose that should be coordinating the functions of the body. 

The passage does talk about our understanding not being essential to our membership. If the eye says it is not part of the body it does not cease to be part of the body. Yet it is such a gift to be able to grasp that you are part of something larger. Certainly I believed in the Kingdom of God as a protestant. Yet I did not get excited about the movement of that Kingdom in the same way. That is because it was not visible. We just believed in the body of Christ despite widespread disagreement over just about every doctrine and just about every liturgical practice. We believed it because it was in the bible so it must be true but it had very few practical implications.

As a Catholic I see the body of Christ. It is the church. I can learn about her story. I can get to know her saints. Yes there are many connected to her without knowing it but there is a physical reality that is being asserted. That is an awesome thing because you do really feel you are a part of something bigger. 

It also builds your faith because the church is just the sort of thing Jesus would found. Something that brings God to us. Something that tirelessly teaches the one true gospel. Something that suffers when we sin. Something that unites us and makes us holy. Yet something that remains hidden. It looks human despite its divine origin just like Jesus looks human despite His divinity. The church allows us to participate in the ministry of Christ. That is we collectively become the presence of God in the world.   

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