“The members are many, but the body is one.” (1 Cor 12,20)
Have you ever visited a community, alive because it is made up of authentic Christians? Have you ever joined some of their gatherings? Or tried to understand their way of life?
If so, you must have noticed that those people who make up this community have different roles: some have a gift for speaking, and can communicate spiritual realities that touch your soul.
Others have a gift for helping, or caring for the sick, or providing aid, and it is amazing how much they can do for the benefit of those who suffer. Some teach with such wisdom they reinforce the faith which you already possessed. There are those who know how to organize or to govern, while others have a gift for understanding people, and for offering consolation to those in need.
Yes, you may have noticed all of these things, but what strikes you above all in a community of this type is the fact that all of its members have the same spirit, something you seem to feel in the air, something that unites this particular community into one, single body..
Paul too, in a particular way, found himself before vital Christian communities which had actually come into being through the power of his extraordinary preaching. One of these was the young community of Corinth to which the Holy Spirit had been very generous in conferring gifts, or charisms, as they are called. Moreover, in those early days there were extraordinary charisms given for the special vocation of the young Church.
The only thing was that this community, after the exalting experience of numerous gifts from the Holy Spirit, began to encounter rivalry and confusion among those who had received such benefits.
He explained that although there is a variety of charisms, and functions, like that of the apostles, or the prophets, or teachers, but there is only one Lord who bestows them all. Therefore, they had to ask for help from Paul who was in Ephesus. Paul was quick to reply through one of his remarkable letters, explaining how special graces should be used.
He said that in the community there are those who work miracles, or heal, while others have special gifts for serving or for governing. There are those who can speak in tongues, and others who can interpret them. But, he adds, there is only one God from whom all these gifts have their origin.
Therefore, since these various gifts are expressions of one and the same Holy Spirit who gives them freely to each person, they will always be in harmony with one another, always complementary to one another.
They do not serve personal satisfaction, nor can they be a motive of pride or of personal affirmation, but they have been bestowed for a common purpose: to build up the community. Their goal is service and therefore they cannot cause rivalry or confusion.
Paul, even though considering the special gifts that concerned the life of the community as a whole, was still of the opinion that all the members possessed their own talent, their own special ability which should be utilized for the good of all. Everyone should be happy with what he or she has been given.
He envisioned the Christian community as a body and asked himself, "If your whole body were just one eye, how would you hear anything? And if it were just one ear, how would you smell anything? Instead of that, God has 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,
If instead, we are all different, each one of us can be a gift for the others. Therefore, we can be ourselves and fulfill the plan that God has for us in relation to the others. In the community in which this variety of gifts is truly put at the service of the others, Paul finds a reality to which he gives the splendid name, Christ.
The fact is that this original body, made up of members of the community, is truly the Body of Christ. Christ, in fact, continues to live in his Church and the Church is his body.
Through baptism, in fact, the Holy Spirit first incorporates the believer in Christ, and he or she becomes a member of the community. There, all members are Christ, every division is eliminated, and every discrimination is overcome.
Since the body is one, then the members of the Christian community can realize this new way of life by accomplishing unity among themselves, a unity that presupposes diversity and pluralism. The community does not resemble a block of inert matter, but a living organism with different members.To provoke division is, for Christians, to practice the opposite of what they should be doing.
How then can we live this new word that the Scripture proposes? We should have great respect for the different functions, gifts and talents of the Christian community.
We need to be open to the entire Church in all its aspects, not only to the particular community which we know, or belong to, like the parish community, or the religious organization or movement we are a member of. We must be open to the universal Church in all her manifold expressions.
Therefore, as we consider and protect every part of our physical body, we should do likewise with every member of the spiritual body. We should value all of these members and do our part so that they may be useful to the Church in the best possible way. We should feel that they are our own because we are part of this one body.
(…) Do not scorn what God is asking of you right where you are. Even though our daily work may seem monotonous and insignificant, we all belong to the same body. As members, each one of us participates in the activities of the entire body, even though we remain in the place that God has chosen for us.
What’s essential for us, then, is that we possess that charism which, as Paul proclaims, surpasses all others; and that is love, love for each one we meet, love for everyone on earth.It is through love, through mutual love, that many members can become one body. Text by Chiara Lubich