Not long ago, at dinner in my community in Rome, which houses Jesuits from maybe 30 different countries, one of my brothers from Columbia was talking with one of my brothers from Poland about the different things people eat around the world, and he mentioned hearing that in parts of Asia people eat dog meat. And another of my brothers from the Philippines, who is normally very quiet, looked up from his plate and said, “Oh, yes, very good,” and then he went on with his meal.
There is no more diverse an organization in the world than the Catholic Church. Not only do Catholics come from different countries and races and language groups, but the Church includes saints of different historical periods, the great cloud of witnesses mentioned by the letter to the Hebrews last week. The martyrs of first century Rome, of seventeenth century Japan, of 20th century Spain and Mexico, and, in our still-young century, of Turkey, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, France and elsewhere could not have been more different culturally or socially, yet they all shared a belief in Catholicism so strong they were willing to die for it. People have indeed come, as the Lord says, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south to the table in the kingdom of God, around which we gather this morning.
I paid a visit to chilly Mount Rushmore on my last trip to South Dakota and was stuck by the way the sunlight hit Washington’s face, casting it half in light and half in shadow. It occurred me how little I knew of our first president, whose birthday–with characteristic American efficiency–we combine with Lincoln’s to produce a three-day weekend.
To remedy my lack of knowledge–and perhaps because Americana takes on added interest when you live abroad–I read a biography of our first president.1 And it stuck me just how fortunate those thirteen colonies were to have a man like George Washington as their leader.
Today’s readings are not for the conflict-averse. Today’s world is not for the conflict-averse, either. Within our communities and families, we experience conflict over vaccines and politics. Irresponsible political and media actors seem intent on increasing racial conflict. In the Ukraine, armed conflict threatens. But, as even the Bible demonstrates, the world has never been a conflict-free zone.
Conflict is a part of the human reality Jesus entered into. Conflict is not always bad, either. Political conflicts between big states and small states produced the checks-and-balances of the American Constitution. Theological conflict has led to doctrines that give us deeper insight into the nature of God. We wouldn’t have a Creed if there hadn’t first been disagreements about the Trinity. The fact that sometimes we disagree doesn’t make us bad Christians.
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.