Corpus Christi, Corpus Ecclesiae

The other night, at a procession in honor of the first bishop of Assisi, the current occupant of that seat offered some insightful meditations on the Faith, one of which I would like to highlight here. In this he spoke of the communion, which must exist among all members of the Church. Returning to the popular theme that "no man is an island,"he went on to say that we are rather a body, or (in a geographical one-upping of Donne) an archipelago.

While others have provided commentaries on this concept that are far deeper and more learned than anything I could produce, I would like to gather some reflections on how this sense of communion really is one of the central ideas of our religious life. Sure, our faith life must be based upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; however, it must move beyond this into the practice of this faith within a community, which is why Christ founded the Church. Think about how much our faith depends upon others; our parents, other family members, friends, and (hopefully) priests and others within a church community. Unless you're St. Paul, our Lord is not going to knock you off your horse and tell you to get with the program; if you are a Christian, it's because you have been led to be one by others. Of course, this doesn't mean that one doesn't, at somepoint in their faith journey, have to make a personal choice to be a disciple; it's just saying that you don't get to that point all on your own.

The beautiful thing about the Catholic Faith is that this connection with others is not only in a sense "horizontal" (among those of the same time period), but also "vertical" (including those of different time periods). I think that one of the most awesome parts of the ordination Mass comes at the Litany of the Saints, when the ordinandi lay down before the altar, and everyone in the church kneels as we call upon the saints, those disciples who came before us in the faith, to come and help us today, continuing their activity in the Church even from beyond the grave (although I don't know if it would technically be theologically correct to call them benevolent zombies).

Of course, as with many things, there's a flip side to this coin. If we, the Church Militant on Earth, call upon the assistance of the Church Triumphant in Heaven, we ourselves are also called to pray for the Church Suffering, namely those who are saved, yet are now in Purgatory receiving a final purification before being admitted to the fullness of Heaven. In the same way, we are called to exercise this reaching out on the horizontal plane as well, leading others to Christ through our example and words. As it says in the Bible (always a good source book), from those to whom much has been given, much shall be expected; therefore, if we have received the pearl of great price, how much more are we called upon to lead others to it as well.