One in the Many

Mary Magdala Community

“One in the Many” ©

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

Celebrating the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 18, 2015

So, last Wednesday was one of those crisp and clear Fall days in Wisconsin that shocks a person into an immediate sense of the beauty that surrounds us. As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, such an experience is sensible a la coeur, felt to the heart. You take one step outside and you feel you can reach to the sky, be flooded by color, and soak up the sun. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we live in Wisconsin for the weather, but you have to be here in the upper Midwest to experience Wednesday’s kind of day. When the sky is the blue of water’s depth and you feel the sun’s warmth through a breeze that is on the edge of cold; when leaves’ colors smother you in gold, red, and orange; when you, and your dog – Seamus, walk with a step down the road that is just enough lighter for the gift of it all – this is direct awareness of the gift of beauty – felt to the heart. This kind of day brightens the mood and makes one just a little more social and neighborly.

Such clarifying experiences confirm our desire to have a faith that is just as direct in its revelations. I suggest that such is the Gospel of Mark (10:35-45) in today’s scripture. Jesus responds to the petty posturing of his disciples with the clear, pointed and straightforward teaching, “Serving your neighbor is the sign of greatness.” By such service we acknowledge that we are members of Christ’s body. It is the “we” that matters here, because by this service we show that we are the body of Christ.

With this in mind, I must confess my confusion about the other two readings for today’s reflection. The reading from Hebrews (4:14-16) talks about a very focused view of the place of priest in the ways of the community. And Isaiah (53:10-11) speaks of the isolated one who takes upon oneself the guilt of all. These readings are not about the “we” who serve and by this service become the body of Christ. You see, It’s not about priests or anyone in a specific position that matters. It’s about we who serve and who celebrate thereby the presence of Christ.

Last week I read Garry Wills’ book, Why Priests? A Failed Tradition. This is an homage to Henri de Lubac. Perhaps you will remember that de Lubac and a few others were brought out of silence and institutional isolation by John XXIII to be experts at Vatican II. The silencing of de Lubac came, among other things, as a result of his teaching on the people of God who are themselves the body of Christ, the corpus mysticum (mystical body). His view contrasted with the view of Pius XII expressed in his encyclical treating the same subject. For this de Lubac paid the ultimate price – the teacher who was silenced.

De Lubac’s view was based on the earliest practices and beliefs of those who followed Jesus in those first years of that first century. He grounds his thought in the theology of the first 1000 years of that same community, particularly in Augustine’s application and interpretation of Paul’s teaching on the body of Christ.

The second reading today would have been more in line with the Gospel if it had been selected from 1 Corinthians, chapter 12 where Paul says,

“The body is one, even though it has many parts; all the parts – many as they are – comprise a single body. And so it is with Christ…… You, then, are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.”

Wills points out that this view is more in line with the clarity of the teaching and belief that we servants are the body of Christ.   A lone person in a position of guilt-sharing or, for that matter, Eucharist “confecting” may seem somewhat superfluous on such a view.   As Augustine says what is on the altar is the symbol of ourselves since we are the body of Christ; we receive the symbol of ourselves.

For such writing and teaching in the 20th century Henri de Lubac, including others, was silenced by the Church officials – as they say, “from the top.” This situation was rectified by Pope John to the benefit of us all. But, how are we to clarify de Lubac’s view, and the view of Augustine for that matter, with a view of mystical body that says the order of the body calls for hierarchy and representational persons? After all, this latter view has a long history as well.

In her book, Pillars of Flame, Maggie Ross speaks of the health of one’s ability to live within paradox, holding at the same time two seemingly opposing views. The ability to do this (can you say, “life as a parent?”) allows a person to learn new things, to adapt to new circumstances while maintaining a sense of integrity. Ross contrasts paradox with dualism, the stance that there may be two ways of looking at things but only one is right. This way leads to isolation, grasping for power; it leads to silencing those with whom one does not agree.

In our living tradition of sacramental practice we experience both ourselves as the inclusive body of Christ, as well we experience the eating and drinking of the bread and wine that is the sign of Christ’s presence among us. If this be paradox then we have the exciting challenge of celebrating liturgies that acknowledge both traditions.

Wills makes the point that the position of priest in the early community was a problematic one. After all, it was the priests of the temple in Jerusalem who had the most direct hand (not the Jewish people) in seeing to it that Jesus was executed. Who would want a person identified as priest in your community with such a recent experience? Those first followers had no need of priests at the meals they shared (admittedly, sometimes with separations and contentions) to memorialize and make present Jesus the Servant.

We, like our ancestors in faith, are the body of Christ – whole, entire, fully present. How we ritualize this “we” in a common and united expression is up to us. How we celebrate a living tradition that is sacramental – in the sense of a gift from God that makes clear and direct God’s graced presence among us – is also up to us. One thing is clear – though many members, we are One. Just as the God we worship is Three in One so are we One in the Many.


A Prayer

            You are the Promised One who comes to serve. We see in your example, brother Jesus, our way to truth, our path to life. We follow your lead and become one Body with many parts. May we revere, respect, and serve this Body – this One in the Many.

            Guide us as Servants to one another and to all others as we put into practice your command of love. When we welcome the stranger, when we help our sisters and brothers in their need, when we reconcile in peace with our enemies – let this be your Service alive in the world.

            Hear us, guide us, forgive us, love us by your community life of Three in One – now and forever. Amen.   (JR)



Selections from “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition,” by Garry Wills

Henri de Lubac in “Corpus Mysticum”

“This union of Head with the entire body … makes up a true reality. It is what Alger of Liege (1055-1131) meant by … the ‘inclusive body of Christ.’

“Christ alone is not celebrated (at the altar) but the inclusive Christ is celebrated. Therefore the Eucharist does not occur without the grace pervading the whole body of Christ.”

Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272

(After quoting 1 Corinthians 12:27: “You are Christ’s body, and his limbs.)

“If, then, you are Christ’s body and his limbs, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar – what you receive is a symbol of yourselves. When you say, ‘Amen’ to what you are, your saying it affirms it. You hear, ‘The body of Christ,’ and you answer ‘Amen,’ and you must be the body of Christ to make that ‘Amen’ take effect. And why are you bread? Hear again the Apostle, speaking of this very symbol: ‘We are one bread, one body, many as we are.’” (1 Cor 10:17)

Garry Wills, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition”

“I want to assure my fellow Catholics that, as priests shrink in numbers … congregations do not have to feel they have lost all connection with the sacred just because the role of priests in their lives is contracting. If Peter and Paul had no need of priests to love and serve God, neither do we. If we need (companionship) in belief – and we do – we have each other.”

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