many parts, one body


Posted By on Sep 16, 2014

(Fr. Cyprian, on 1 Cor 12:12-14; 27-31a) I remember very clearly the teaching that for Saint Paul this image of the Body of Christ is not just a metaphor, not just a symbol. Paul means it literally. As the song goes, “We are many parts, but we are one body.” And what is this Body? Well, of course, first of all it is Christ and the visible church, yes, Christ and all the baptized, and it is a nice serendipity that we celebrate St. Cyprian of Carthage today. Being a bishop during a time of such persecutions, the Church and the unity of the Church was a favorite subject of his. This is from perhaps his most famous writing, “On the Unity of the Catholic Church”: “God is one and Christ is one and his Church is one, and the faith is one, and the Christian people is joined into a substantial unity of body by the cement of concord. Unity cannot be severed. And what is one by its nature cannot be separated.”[i] Saint Cyprian also never tired of emphasizing the primacy of Rome and the See of Peter; he taught that if someone deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the church was built, they can’t possibly think they are in the church: “No one can have God for a Father who does not have the Church as a mother.” And he used an image that would be popularized later by Cardinal Bernardin in regards life issues as an image of the church, the “seamless garment.” In this regard, I think it’s important always to remember though that not only cannot the body exist without its head; neither does the head ever exist without the body. Just in terms of our hierarchy, as Fr. Bede loved to point out, “the pope has no authority apart from the bishops, so the pope and the bishops have no authority apart from the people from whom they are chosen and whom they represent,”[ii] just as the ordained priesthood makes no sense outside of priesthood of all the baptized from which they are drawn. This is the true magisterium of the church, both the sensus fidei and the sensus fidelium––a sense of the faith and the wisdom of the faithful. That was the revolutionary articulation of Lumen Gentium: “The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing from the holy one cannot err in matters of belief.”[iii] And notice that in Paul’s list of the hierarchy of the church (my spiritual director loves to point this out to me!), administrators, who we might think of as the superiors, are seventh...

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(Fr. Cyprian) I recently read a fascinating essay by the Muslim scholar Ali Lakhani, who I met two weeks ago at the Christian Muslim gathering in Seattle, called “On Detachment and Spiritual Courtesy” that came to mind immediately as I read today’s readings.[1] He says that there are two movements missing from our modern world (or maybe it has always been the case with human beings and it’s just especially acute in our modern technological world): that we are not in touch with either our transcendence nor with our immanence. Just as God is not only transcendent but also indwelling or immanent (and vice versa (!): God is not just immanent but also transcendent), so we human beings have these two poles stretching us. We are destined to access spiritual heights (Rahner’s “supernatural existential”), to transcend ourselves, but we are also never not immersed and intertwined and involved in the world, like the lotus with its roots in the mud but opening up to heaven. When we realize our transcendence, we get a sense of our poverty and our neediness in relation to God, and a sense of wonder and humility and worship. But when we recognize our immanence, we start to get an awareness of the sacred inter-relatedness of all things and all creatures, and that ought to lead us to real compassion for all things and all creatures. We feel with victims of the Ebola epidemic, and the victims of the wars in Gaza and the Ukraine, and we groan with Mother Earth suffering under the effects of greenhouse gasses, not to mention the pains of my brother next to me in choir. The ancient Christian monks were always aiming at apatheia, “passionless-ness”; sometimes that’s translated as “detachment,” which we heard so much about on our retreat on Evagrius of Pontus from Fr. Luke Dysinger last week, himself an expert in the field. But Ali points out that it’s always important to note that apatheia doesn’t mean anything like apathy nor does detachment mean insensitivity. It doesn’t mean that we can see images of horrible violence, depravity and suffering and remain unmoved like a cold stone. Apatheia means the detachment that comes from purity of heart, detached from my own egoism and the absence of the disordered passions that distort our view of reality. In some way apatheia ought to lead us to be even more sensitive to the suffering around us because all the filters of our blinding egoism will be stripped off! Ali writes, it is “in such virgin soil that the flower of compassion” can grow, a “love that is not self-contained but [is]...

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