Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 27 January 2019
Today’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians describes St. Paul’s theology of the Church as the Body of Christ. St. Paul explains that we are all united with Christ through our baptism in the one Holy Spirit of God using the analogy of the human body. Together, we are the Body of Christ because we are united with Christ and, therefore, we are united with one another through Jesus Christ. Just like many different parts, the limbs and fingers and toes and organs, make up a human body, so we make up the body of Christ. If all you have is an arm, then you don’t have a body, you have an arm. So, we cannot be the Body of Christ alone, it is only when we are united with the Church that we form the Body of Christ.
He probably came up with this analogy by reflecting on the first time that he saw Jesus, which we just celebrated on Friday with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Paul was on a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus there when he suddenly saw a blinding light and heard a voice speak from the light. He heard a voice speaking from the light, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked who he was, and the voice replied, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.” Notice that Jesus didn’t ask, “Why are you persecuting my followers?” He asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” This may have helped St. Paul to realize just how deeply the followers of Jesus are connect to Jesus Christ.
St. Paul goes on to explain how the different members of the human body all play different roles, but they are all essential to the functioning of the body. As he says, “But God so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” In the Body of Christ we each have a role to play, a function to fulfill. Not everyone has the same spiritual gifts and not everyone has the same talents and abilities, but when we are united as one Church we have all of the spiritual gifts and all of the talents and abilities that we need to build up the Body of Christ and fulfill the mission of the Church on earth.
The study of the saints is a great example of this. None of the saints had all of the spiritual gifts, but each saint had a role to play. Some, like St. Thomas Aquinas, were gifted scholars and teachers. Some, like Pope St. Gregory VII, were gifted administrators. Mother Teresa had a deep love for the poor. St. Frances Xavier had a great missionary zeal. The martyrs, like St. Thomas Moor, display the courage to stand up for the faith in the face of persecution. One of my favorite saints is St. Germaine Cousin. She didn’t write scholarly works or die for the faith or start religious orders; she was just a shepherdess. However, she lived out the faith in her ordinary, daily life to the fullest extent. The people of her little town in France remembered her kindness, generosity, and fidelity, and eventually her story caught the attention of the outside world and she was canonized.
We are all called by God and given spiritual gifts to fulfill some role in the Church and in the world. What is God calling you to do? Most of us shouldn’t expect some deep, mystical answer to that question. What are your gifts, talents, and abilities? What do you have to offer? God gave you these gifts so that you might use them. So, how are you using them? We all have something to offer, something to contribute. We all have a part to play in the mission of the Church to proclaim the Gospel, to make disciples of all peoples, and to bring souls to God.
This is what we do every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We gather together as one Body, each bringing what they have to offer and giving it to the Lord, and receiving back the graces they need to go back out into the world and keep doing God’s work. This is symbolized in the offertory. The gifts of bread and wine are brought up from the congregation and by members of the congregation. The priest received them, places them on the altar, and offers them to God on behalf of all of the people. You should spiritually place on that paten with the unleavened bread and in that chalice with the wine everything that you have to offer to God. Place on the altar your gifts, your talents and abilities, your prayers and your hopes, your sacrifices and sufferings. Place all of yourself on the altar for the priest to offer to God on your behalf, and ask the Lord to transform you, like He transforms the bread and wine into His Precious Body and Blood. Then when you receive Communion ask Him to strengthen you with His Spirit so you can go out and keep doing His work.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.