Memorial, St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.
One of the 'hobbies' of Jesuits is to reminisce about those who have gone before us, especially our teachers and especially those who were characters. Bob Dufford, S.J. still tells the story about his philosophy professor at St. Louis University, Dr. Leonard Eslick. Dr. Eslick was wont to say, in his inimical style, "All of philosophy is merely a footnote to the great Plato." It was the theory of the One and the Many that he liked, as I recall.
That is still a very lively question in today's Church: is the Church ONE or is it MANY? When we speak about the Church, do we mean the Church Universal? Or the Church Local? (Operators are standing by!) Do we mean the pope and bishops? Or, do we mean the people next to us in the pews or who help out at the food kitchen?
Paul must have been dealing with something like that when he used the image of the one body and its many members. What happens when one part of the body despises another part of the body? What happens when one part of the body thinks it is the whole of the body? Seems to me that that is what is going on today. Different parts of the body are 'claiming' to be the body itself.
When I encounter this in real life, I get very defensive myself saying, "You're not the body, you're just a part of it!" In this way I forget that I make claims that the part of the body that I represent is something that I claim as the 'whole body' too.
As we all know, the very next section that Paul goes into is his marvelous hymn to charity: "Strive for the higher gifts; love is patient, love is kind, love is never rude." It's a lovely piece that is mainly fit for cross-stitched pillows and wedding gifts.
Let's face it, charity is a lot tougher a virtue than maybe we've imagined. All those cross-stitched pillows and 'precious moments' sentiments have clouded our vision. The charity that Paul will eventually speak about is an invitation into the paschal mystery, the dying and the rising of the Lord. How do you like to be invited into that mystery in terms of loving that other part of the body that makes such outlandish claims?
As a way of ending, let me propose a new sacrament or a new sacramental rite that would precede the Rite of Reconciliation. It's called the Rite of Unwillingness. In it I get to admit before God and the community that I am unwilling to move toward my neighbor in charity. I get to publicly cling to my intransigence. I am allowed to hold up myself and my 'part of the body' as supreme and as unwilling to recognize any other part of the body as supreme. I get to play God. I think that would be better, especially for us moderates to liberals who think ourselves so welcoming of others.
Then, let's talk about charity for the one AND the many.
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