September 04, 2009

The Corporate Nature of Christ

Jesus said, "it was not you who loved me first, but I who loved you." And who can doubt it with respect to the apostles! Their love was weak and tepid until after Pentecost and if Jesus loved the apostles first, he loves even us first too because we know, intuitively, that we're not really any better or worse than the apostles. They were chosen seemingly randomly as representatives of our race. What is possible for them - to be filled with the love of God - is possible for us because God plays no favorites.

I find it consoling that someone as strong & manly as Padre Pio could be more consoled by the epistles of St. Paul than any other part of the Bible. "Whenever I read [Paul's] letters, which I prefer to all other holy writings, words cannot express my relish for them," he wrote. Being beaten around by the devil as he was likely inclines one to a certain amount of humility and compassion such that he could say fervently, "Pray, hope and don't worry". Those prone to hopelessness and despair are the ones mostly likely to preach hope and peace. Those who are already strong have no need of mercy.

Since I was a child the letters of St. Paul were likewise my favorite and I think it's because they are exceedingly encouraging, and they are extremely encouraging because Paul himself was first a persecutor of Christians and so was more gentle than he otherwise might've been, understanding his own weaknesses. And it was inconceivable to him that God might save him but not others. One need look only as far as yesterday's first reading, Colossians 1:9-14:
"Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light."
Paul says boldly that God has made us "fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones". It doesn't get anymore encouraging than that. And we feel it even more keenly because we know that the early Christian communities that Paul was writing to were not exactly paragons of virtue. They squabbled and acted selfishly and were remonstrated for numerous sins, sins that obscure our vision of God but which could be forgiven.

Christians still have to "pass by the dragon" said an early saint. I've heard it said that Christ's suffering was not as long in duration as other people's sufferings, but I think that misses the point in the sense of not fulling understanding the corporate nature of Christ - that He is within us literally and that when we suffer He somehow participates. When I look at a saint like St. Francis, who received the stigmata, I see Christ. If it's hard to differentiate sometimes between Jesus and the Father because they are so close, it's similarly sometimes hard to do so in St. Francis and Jesus, given their mutual earthly miracles and sufferings. The unreal suffering of some tortured martyrs can be understood only supernaturally; they could not have withstood it without God's presence, and in that way Christ suffers much longer than anyone else, through us. We think of ourselves as individuals when God thinks of us much more communally, for what else could it mean that when Adam sinned we all did? What else could it mean that when Christ was redeemed all were redeemed? The imagery of the Body of Christ is not merely an image but a reality we can barely comprehend.

1 comment:

Fred said...

Imagine a body of thinking members. Pascal.