Arts and Culture

Experience of Being the Mystical Body of Christ

In commenting on the doctrine that the Christian community is the body of Christ in the world, Bernard Cooke in his book “The God of Space and Time” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, pp.208, $4.95) uses as an analogy our human bodies. He points out that just as a man and woman in marriage “become one flesh,” Christ and his Church become one body.

He points out that this union does not diminish either the identity or distinctiveness of either Christ or his followers but rather, as in any union of love, both the identity and distinctiveness of the partners can grow.

Christ’s ascent to heaven is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Mary of the Isle Church in Long Beach, N.Y. The feast of the Ascension of the Lord, observed May 21 in 2020, celebrates the completion of Christ’s mission on earth and his entry into heaven. (Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

As far as I can figure out, love is the only union in which identity and distinctiveness are not lost. The love relationship actually causes the two parties’ identity and distinctiveness to grow in intensity. I find that amazing. The deeper my relation with Christ, the more I become me, not a part of God in some pantheistic way, but rather a deeper and better self. Rather than losing my identity in Christ, I find my identity on a deeper level. Through my relationship with Christ, I can become a better Robert Lauder.

Re-reading Cooke’s book has been like reviewing some of the best courses in philosophy and theology that I have ever taken. My hope is that I will allow Cooke’s insights to influence how I live. All truth frees us. I believe that the truths that Cooke communicates in his excellent book have the power to influence readers profoundly. In fact, I think of them as an invitation to freedom.

The power and influence that loving and being loved have in my life becomes obvious if I think about the impact that my friends have had on me. I am who I am because of my friends. I could spend hours reflecting on the manner in which close friends have created me. No matter how long I think about my friends’ contribution to my life, I know that I would not even come close to all that I have received from them. They have shared with me their deepest thoughts and their love. They have been marvelous gifts in my life. Analogous to the way that our human body enables us to give ourselves to others, to share our consciousness and love with others in friendship, so Christ through us, his Mystical Body, can share his consciousness and love with others. Cooke writes the following:

“The prophetic activity of the Church, then, is the prophetic activity of the risen Christ himself. In and through Christians, both in their individual lives and in their existence together as a community of faith, the risen incarnated Word continues to speak to the world the saving love of his Father. To put it another way, the Father continues to speak his Word to men through the Church. This saving action of the Father in sending his life-giving Word takes place in proportion to the unity of consciousness between Christ and his followers, in proportion to the Church’s depth and accuracy of faith. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian community has great practical importance: “Have this mind…which was in Christ Jesus…”(p. 197) 

I think that Cooke’s mentioning that the saving action of the Father takes place in proportion to the faith of the community is extremely important. Why is it so important? Because nothing important happens to human beings without the free choice of human beings. We are not robots. We are free persons who have chosen to follow the risen Christ and freely chosen to accept and live by God’s Word. Hearing and accepting God’s Word can help us to be more free. God’s Word liberates us. Saint Augustine’s comment comes to mind that while God created us without our consent, He will not save us without our consent.

I think it is very important that we do not think of the resurrection only as an event that happened 2,000 years ago. The risen Christ is present to us now. We are sharing his life now. Through our relationship with Christ’s body, the Church, we are in contact with the living risen Lord. The saving action of Christ continues through his Mystical Body, the church, which is a dynamic rather than a static community. It can be growing and can reach a deeper relationship with Christ and his Father.

These are not just beautiful thoughts or lovely ideas. They express the most important truths about followers of Christ. The thoughts, ideas, and insights of the great theologians should inspire and motivate us. I am hoping that what I am writing at this moment will help me in celebrating next Sunday’s Eucharist.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.

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