Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptized, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
Nor is the body to be identified with any one of its many parts. . . . God put all the separate parts into the body on purpose. If all the parts were the same, how could it be a body? As it is, the parts are many but the body is one.
1 Cor 12: 12-14; 18-19
In today’s gospel, after Jesus raises the son of a widow in the town of Naim, the people declare (as did Zechariah after the birth of his son) “God has visited his people” (Luke 1:68) The people of scriptural times, no less than human persons throughout the ages, awaken to the breaking of God into human history at those times of an extraordinary manifestation of God’s beneficence. In Luke 19:44, however, we see the visitation as a judgment on Jerusalem for its refusal to recognize God’s coming in the more ordinary life of Jesus. The raising of the dead, as any “miraculous” intervention in the ways of nature and society, is enough to awaken even the dullest of heart and mind. But what of the less obvious and more consistent of “visitations” in the experience of human otherness?
In his description of “Christ’s body” St. Paul is responding to the cliques and factions that show themselves when the Christians of Corinth gather. For human beings like responds to like because we tend to be wary and suspicious of what is foreign to and other than ourselves. This is a natural and instinctive matter of self and tribal preservation. The “Christian” perspective, as imagined by Paul is, therefore, quite radical. It says that we are all of one tribe, of one body, despite our differences and although highly unique and distinctive. It asserts, in fact, that it is in our differences and uniqueness that our unity is realized. We hear the metaphor of Christ’s body so often that it has become a bit commonplace for us, and so we can tend to forget how challenging are its implications in practice.
In the family, in the workplace, in the churches, in the political realm, in our personal relationships, we place great emphasis on conformity. In the personal realm we want others to confirm our biases and prejudices and to conform to our expectations. In our gatherings, be they work, ecclesial, or political, we want the others to further the goal or project that we see as our reason for coming together. A case can be made that the demise of most human institutions, including religious communities and churches, is due to their valuing of function and efficiency in service to a specific task, over the creativity and inspiration that comes from fostering the uniqueness of their members. When efficiency in the service of product or outcome becomes a greater value than the fostering of the uniqueness of the persons who constitute it, any group, for whatever its successes, has already planted the seeds of its demise.
Theodore James Ryken, in his Plan for the Congregation he hoped to establish, realized the importance of fostering and forming the distinctive gifts of each potential member. He also recognized that it was the communion (harmony) of his brotherhood that would be the source of “powerful works” in the world and that true communion or harmony required recognizing and appreciating the unique strengths and weaknesses of each person. For him, however, this
recognition and appreciation of the uniqueness of each member was only possible through an ongoing process of human and spiritual formation in discipleship. What we like to see as our strengths (or in our time what we are more inclined to refer to as our “gifts”) as well as our weaknesses are not static. In Ryken’s terms they are always being developed, or in a process of continual formation. Ryken describes a very active stance in terms of our own development and in our relationship to the development of our brothers and sisters in community. It is by a dynamic process of self-formation and of inter-relatedness and inter-formation that our true strengths or gifts come to be realized and thus incarnated in the “powerful works” that emanate from our ever-deepening communion.
One will try to detect every person’s character and temperament, his natural and supernatural gifts. His weaknesses should also be known so that, in a balanced manner, measures can be taken so that the profitable capacities to which he is well-inclined would be promoted instead. On knowing his capacities, everything should be ordered in such a way that these may be developed so that he may successfully fulfill the tasks that are assigned to him. In so doing, the little members of this whole body as well as the great, the weak as well as the strong, may act harmoniously with each other. Through this, powerful works may then be produced through this body.
T. J. Ryken, Plan, #13