“You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members.’ If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: `Amen’; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: `The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: `Amen!’ Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your `Amen’ may be the truth.” St. Augustine, Sermon 272
Today, as Catholics celebrate Corpus Christi—the wonderful commemoration of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The feast offers us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of this Holy Mystery in our lives.
As the above quote from St. Augustine reminds us, the Body of Christ reflects a broader mystery than the body and blood that we receive. The Body of Christ literally incorporates those who receive the Eucharist: the church.
Beyond a description of the mysterious and holy dimension of the church, the image of the Body of Christ, I believe, also serves as a challenge to us all as church.
Unfortunately, to recognize the church as the Body of Christ is particularly challenging today. In recent months, the church in the United States seems to be becoming increasingly divided. Perhaps unduly influenced by political polarizations, there seems to be more division than unity. Parishes and even specific liturgies are divided along conservative/progressive lines and new animosities have arisen between theologians and bishops.
This is something of deep concern for me as I witness committed Catholics seriously consider leaving the church for the first time in their lives. As we near the presidential election, I only fear that these passionate divisions and misunderstandings between well-meaning good people will lead to further hurt and the fracturing of the church. This does not mean that there are not real substantial issues or disagreements that we need to address. But it might mean that we may consider changing how we address disagreements.
Addressing a very different divided church reality, St. Paul, as we know, frequently appealed to the theology of the Body of Christ to emphasize Christian unity.
Is the mystery and challenge of Corpus Christi still helpful as we seek common ground in the church?
I find St. Paul’s teachings in Romans 12 helpful for how we might respond to the challenge of living as the Body of Christ. In the first half of the chapter, Paul evokes image of the Body of Christ to call us to respect and encourage each other’s gifts and specific contributions in a spirit of humility:
“For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them” (Rom. 12:3-6)
In the lines immediately following this section, Paul continues by emphasizing key values or virtues for the Body of Christ, including mutual love, humility, respect, charity, compassion, hospitality, and goodness:
“Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.” (Rom 12:9-18)
In light of the present context, how does Paul’s teachings (especially in terms of humility and respect) challenge us personally and as the Body of Christ?