HOMILY WEEK 31 02 – Year I
Living as Members of the Body of Christ
(Rm 12:5-16a; Ps 131; Lk 14:15-24)
Years ago, I took the Community Addictions Training (CAT) course offered by Nechi Institute in St. Albert. Reflecting the Indigenous nature of the institute, the course was 80 percent right-brain activity and only 20 percent lecture – just the opposite of my university experience. I wondered how they would be able to present the module on the effects of alcohol on the body in a right-brain way – but they did. We were divided into groups, each given the task of studying the effects of alcohol on one part of the body, and given materials to make a model of that body part as it would look damaged by the abuse of alcohol. Returning to the conference room, we found a huge human figure outlined with masking tape on the floor. Each group placed its infected body part in its appropriate place on that human figure and then taught the class what they had learned. The result was not only informative, but visually striking and had an impact on motivating us all to never abuse alcohol in our lives.
The readings today invite us to live out our membership in the Body of Christ by using our gifts to work for unity and live virtuous lives.
St. Paul, in the first reading, reminds the Romans that they, “though many, are one body in Christ and members of one another.” On a spiritual level, we are all related – a connection with Indigenous spirituality that has participants in a sweat lodge proclaiming “Kahkiyaw ni wâhkômâkanak” – “All my relations” – a humble reminder we all part of a much larger whole. So, we must always work towards unity, and against disunity. It is interesting that one name we give the evil one is the “devil,” from the Greek “diablos,” which means to divide. So, wherever there is a spirit of bitter divisiveness in any group, one could say that, to a certain degree, there is a diabolical force at work.
Second, we have been given many gifts and talents we are to use to build up the Body of Christ. St. Paul lists prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, being compassionate. Fittingly, there is a book entitled Gifts Differing that speaks of all the different gifts of the Spirit we are given. There are even workshops on discernment of gifts that many parishes have undertaken. We need to ask ourselves what are our particular gifts and talents, acknowledge them, thank God for them and then put them to the service of others. The old saying, use them or lose them, applies here.
Finally, Paul lists a variety of virtues that go to make up Christian life: love, avoiding evil, respect, zeal, ardent in spirit, serving, patience, joy, hope, prayer, generosity, hospitality, and forgiveness above all. This is the second check list for Christian living that Paul provides, very similar to 1 Cor 13. Both are a litmus test for us on how we are living out our membership in the body of Christ.
The reading from St. Paul ends almost like a musical piece, in a crescendo focused on forgiveness that is able to bless even our persecutors. Forgiveness is a powerful force, and so is a blessing. Both are core elements that build up the Body of Christ.
A few years ago, I conducted a retreat for my Oblate brothers at Westminster Abby in BC. Archbishop Emeritus Adam Exner OMI, my former professor and spiritual director, attended the retreat at the age of 93. I was somewhat intimidated at first, but delighted that in the end, he wrote these words in the thank you card that I was presented: “The student has surpassed the teacher – I am proud of you.” I was stunned, profoundly moved, grateful, filled with joy and energized by this blessing. Adam was truly an elder, blessing a younger Oblate bishop. He was empowering me to be more generative – a blessing that I will carry to my dying day.
Male spirituality teaches that boys are born to be warriors, but there is more to life than doing battle, competing and climbing to the top. To stay on that path runs the risk of becoming “bitter old fools.” Initiation rites help men descend, let go of the need for power and control, move into deeper relationships and more mature lives of prayer, and eventually become kings, wise old men, elders. That is what Archbishop Adam was for me, and what we are to be to those younger than us as we age graciously. That, too, is living as a member of the Body of Christ.
Jesus, in the Gospel, reminds the Pharisees that living in the Kingdom of God is always an invitation, one they unfortunately kept resisting. The Eucharist is our response to this invitation. It is our anticipated participation in that heavenly banquet to which we are invited by Jesus.
May our celebration deepen our membership in the Body of Christ, empower us to use all our gifts and talents to love, bless, forgive and work for unity as we build up the Kingdom of God.