One Body, many witnesses

In today’s second reading, St. Paul warns us of autoimmune disease.  An autoimmune disease, as you may know, is when the body attacks itself, one of its own parts.  It’s a self-destructive disease.  Last week we heard Paul tell the Corinthians, who had been squabbling over who had the better gifts, that all these different gifts come from one Spirit.  One Spirit, many gifts. 

Today Paul continues the same theme with the analogy of the body.  The Church is like a body, with different parts—eyes and ears and limbs and so on—and if jealousy between these parts enters in and the eye stops seeing because it wants to hear, and the legs stop walking because they want to see, and the lungs stop breathing because they want to walk, then pretty soon instead of a body you have a corpse.  It is one of the most important metaphors in the Bible, and this morning I’d like to focus on two implications of this metaphor.  The first is that bodies share common goods.  And the second is that the Body of Christ is meant to be alive.  

St. Isaac Jogues

         First of all, what is a common good?  It’s a phrase we sometimes hear in connection with Catholic social teaching, but I want to think about it at the most basic level.  A common good is a goal—a good—we have in common, something we are all working toward together because it’s good for all of us, not just for me.  The autoimmune disease Paul warns us about is losing sight of the common good.  When the eye says, I’m going to give up seeing for a while because I want to have these other experiences of hearing or walking, well, that may be good for the eye, but it’s bad for the body as a whole. The eye may have new experiences, but the body stumbles around blindly.  And that turns out to be bad for the eye too.

         The opposite of serving the common good is protecting one’s own turf.  And let me tell you, this is a plague for the Church—not a cold, not the flu, not even covid, but full-blown bubonic plague.  It’s a plague as old as the Corinthians and something that infects parishes, campus ministries, even the Vatican.  Guarding one’s turf means losing sight of what the overall goal of the Church is—evangelization, holiness, growing in the love of Christ—and instead seeking to protect what’s mine.  It’s a disease that paralyzes.  It leads to obsession over petty signs of prestige, the bureaucratization of the Church, meetings about meetings, the repetition of empty slogans, to brown noses and empty brains.  The treatment for this disease is to take a step back and ask, what is our common good?  What are the goals we are all trying to accomplish?  What is best for the whole body?

         The second point to draw from Paul’s metaphor is that a body is alive.  It is meant to grow, to live.  What does it mean for the Church to be alive? We can look at the Gospel.  Today’s Gospel is a bit odd, in the sense that it takes the very beginning of the Gospel of Luke, in which Luke explains why he’s writing the book, and then it skips forward over the passages about Christmas and the baptism of Jesus to when Jesus announces his presence in his home synagogue in Nazareth.  He proclaims who he is, that he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  Reading these two sections together puts the emphasis on the proclamation of the Gospel, on evangelization, telling the story of Jesus in order to attract people to him as his disciples.  This is what it means for the Body of Christ to be alive.

         If it seems that the body is not growing but declining, it may be that we need to test ourselves for the autoimmune disease Paul warns us of.  It may be that instead of looking outward to tell the story of Jesus, to be fishers of men, we are focused inwardly, fighting over an ever-shrinking piece of turf. This bureaucratic disease is especially a danger for people like me, who are full-time Church employees, but the solution I think involves us all.  

         You might think that when Paul says, not everyone is an apostle or a teacher, that this means the responsibility for the growth of the Church falls only to a few professionals.  But here I think there’s a confusion between being a teacher and being a witness.  Teaching Christian doctrine does require some specialized training, depending on the type and level of teaching, some skills that not everybody has and not everybody needs.  But being a witness is part of the DNA of discipleship.  It’s something that belongs to every cell.  We all are called to be witnesses as part of our contribution to the common good.

         Being a witness means giving testimony.  Think about being called to be a witness in court.  It involves saying what you have seen and experienced.  When Luke writes his Gospel, what he is doing is pulling together the testimony of witnesses—people who have seen and experienced Jesus.  And we are all witnesses.  We have experienced Jesus, in prayer, in the sacraments, in the stories others have passed on to us, in the ways his teachings have shaped our thinking and inspired us.  We all are called to share that testimony.  And so I would challenge you, as members of the body of Christ, each one—what is your testimony?  Mine, for example, would involve prayer, the way that when I pray, I am different, feel different afterwards than I did at the beginning; it would involve the way that the Eucharist, this celebration, is my center and it allows me to recenter myself no matter how much I screw up whatever else I do throughout the day; it would involve the peaceful feeling I had celebrating my first Mass, knowing that I was doing exactly what I was created to do. 

What is in your DNA?  What is your testimony?  The next time you are faced with that non-practicing relative, that curious non-believer, even that fellow Catholic who needs strengthening, as we all do from time to time, instead of saying, “You should do this or that,” think about your testimony.  Bear witness to what God has done for you.  There are, I am convinced, so many people these days suffocating from loneliness, literally dying to meet the one anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, slight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.It is our task to bear witness to him.  And if you feel like you do not know what more to say, it does not need to be anything more complicated than the invitation Jesus himself gave to the first disciples, “Come and see.”

St. Isaac Jogues, Rapid City

January 23, 2022

Author: Anthony Lusvardi, SJ

Anthony R. Lusvardi, S.J., teaches sacramental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He writes on a variety of theological, cultural, and literary topics.

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