Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Recognizing the body
by Father Jan Larson
(From the Oct. 21, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
One cannot read many of the writings of the apostle Paul without seeing how deeply joyful he was to experience being in Christ. Thus he delights in the responsibility given to him: “...to proclaim the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to the saints, the riches of the glory of this mystery, Christ in you” (Col.1:25-27).
However, he seems to have been constantly troubled that the Christian communities he had founded and whose lives he had so deeply touched were sometimes living as though they had forgotten this reality of life in Christ. His letters to Rome, Corinth and Collossae indicate that he must continually draw attention to the reality which grounds their liturgical celebrations: the intimate union of the Christian with Christ, and the incorporation of the believer into the “Body of Christ,” the living congregation of those bound to the Lord in the new covenant.
Would Paul need to write such letters of admonition to us today? Most likely so. In our highly individualistic society it is common for us to think that “community” (the kind Paul has in mind) is a matter of feeling comfortable, of knowing everybody’s name, sharing common opinions, likes and dislikes, even of agreeing on what good liturgy ought to look like. Such a notion of church is found in comments like, “there was such a feeling of community at that liturgy,” or “we should work at creating community.” Yet looking at a bit of history, the imprisoned pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer cautioned against confusing the church community of which Paul speaks with such “feelings of conviviality.” He did this in the face of the cowardice of the churches in Nazi Germany – that is, precisely because of such selective notions of community.
The community of which Paul speaks is already given. It is not something to be created by us, but uncompromisingly recognized, even when we do not feel it. Such community is not the result of workshops, warm sentiments, or any number of other human strategies. Such community is established by the crucial steps of Christian initiation – by incorporation into Christ at baptism, by anointing with the Spirit, and by weekly nourishment of the Body’s life through Eucharistic sharing. Paul argues in his first letter to the church at Corinth that the Body of Christ is one, precisely because every member has been fed upon the one bread – that is, upon the one Christ. The Body of Christ is at the same time the bread in which we share and the Body of the Church. It is utterly clear to Paul that how his communities understand this “being in Christ,” this being bound to the Lord together, makes all the difference in the world for what they think they are doing at public prayer or at any moment of their lives.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle. This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2010 edition of the Inland Register.)