God has given each of us an enormous amount, beginning with life itself. Most especially, he has given us our relationship with Jesus. St. Paul can say, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Through our relationship with Christ, we are bonded with all those who belong to Him. In second reading for today’s liturgy, 1 Corinthians, 12: 12-30, we hear: “Just as the body is one and has many members. And all the members of the body, though many are one, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12).
Paul asserts the same message in his other letters: “Though many we are one body in Christ” (Rm 12:5); “In one body we have many members” (Rom 12:4).
At times, we may be conscious of our relationship with God but even though other people surround us, it may not e apparent to us how they enter into our relationship with God.
I knew parents of new-born twins. Each baby seemed perfectly happy when he was alone with the parents and was the focus of their full attention. A baby couldn’t understand that he could be the full focus when the attention was shared. What the baby didn’t realize is that the parents not only gave him love but also a brother who was also a gift of love for him. In the same way, God gives us sisters and brothers, who are signs and agents of His love for us and we for them.
Paul found a very good image of this relationship with Christ and others in the human body, first of all because the body is a masterpiece of individual parts bonded into one: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 1)
As individuals, we are reborn through the Holy Spirit: “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit,” (Jn 3:5). And, as Paul tells us, in Baptism, we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14).
The Holy Spirit not only takes away sin but even more, joins us with Christ and with each other: “For by one Spirit, namely, by the power of the one Holy Spirit, we were all, who are members of Christ, baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). St Thomas Aquinas states: “The one ground of unity is the Holy Spirit, ‘One body and one Spirit’ Eph (4:4)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 742).
Paul declares that we “drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:14). St. Thomas reflects that “by the power of the one Holy Spirit” we receive “inward refreshment which the Holy Spirit offers to the human heart,’ as the Gospel of John says, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (Jn 7:38)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 734).
Thomas explains that to “drink of one Spirit can also apply to drinking the Blood of Christ: “It can be understood of a sacramental drink, which is consecrated by the Spirit: ‘All drank the same spiritual drink’ (1 Cor 10:4)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 734).
Paul sees the unity through the Eucharist: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17).
Even though we are united, our differences remain but this is also true of the human body, as Thomas explains: “God arranged, i.e., put in order, the various members. For even if the distinction of the members is a work of nature, nevertheless nature did this as an instrument of divine providence” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 742).
Thomas asserts that the unity is not diminished because of the diversity: “No diversity of this kind impedes the unity of the body of Christ: ‘There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 735).
Thomas explains that the “body of Christ” is similar to the perfection of the human body as Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many are one body in Christ” (Rm 12:4).
Paul insists that no part of the body is “less a part of the body” (1 Cor 12:16). Thomas comments: “It might seem that the hand is more important than the foot because the foot just moves along the earth, carrying the weight of the body whereas the hand enables the body to do so many things. Yet, the perfection of the body is not just the hand: In the Church not only the hands but also the feet are necessary” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 738).
Thomas compares the eyes that serve knowledge to those who live a contemplative life, among whom are eyes, “teachers who investigate truth.” The ears are those “significant disciples who receive the truth by hearing,” as Jesus says: ‘He that has ears hears to hear, let him hear’ (Mt 13:9)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 738).
Thomas reflects that there are those with “the sense of smell.” Thomas thinks this is those who may not be able to speak words of wisdom but can detect it, who “nevertheless perceive some of its indications from afar, as an odor” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 741).
Thomas comments that God designed the body that no part “should exist separately by itself, but that all should come together in one body” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 742).
Thomas asserts that the first cause of this arrangement is “the divine will,” “According to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will’ (Eph 1:11).
Thomas observes that if all were the same the perfection would be lost, “It would destroy the perfection and beauty of the Church… As it is there are many parts, yet one body, which is made complete by all the parts. Thus, the Church is composed of diverse orders” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 743).
Thomas maintains that the eye that represents contemplatives cannot say to the hand which represents the active people, I have no need of you, just as “Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to His words, Martha was busy with much serving” (Lk 10:39). So Thomas says, we need farmers to maintain life but also “persons dedicated to contemplation and to wisdom, who serve the Church by making it more ornate and in better condition.” Farming might seem more useful and necessary but Thomas thinks, “The noblest things are not considered useful, but they are of themselves to be sought as ends” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 746).
Thomas points out that the nobler members, such as hands and eyes do not receive ornaments because they do not need them but ears and feet are decorated: “And likewise in the Church the more imperfect receive more consolations, which the more perfect do not need, as in ‘He will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom’ (Is 40:11)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 748).
Thomas observes that people take care of their bodily members according to God’s plan “a certain divine instinct” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 749).
Paul asserts: “That there be no discord in the body.” Thomas explains, “[this] is openly avoided, as long as the peace of the Church is maintained by giving to each person whatever is necessary. Hence it was said above ‘Let all of you agree and let there be no dissensions among you’ (1 Cor 1:10). But in regard to the members of the natural body, there would division in body, if the due proportion of the members were removed” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 750).
Thomas considers the mutual care of the members of the body: “Not only do the members work for one another, but they are also of themselves solicitous for one another, i.e., by keeping them within the unity of the body. This is clearly evident in the natural body… Similarly, the other believers, who are members of the mystical body, show solicitude for one another, ‘Carry one another’s burdens’ (Gal 6:2)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 751).
Paul declares: “If one suffers, namely, evil, all suffer together.” This is clearly evident in the body where all the parts seek to help the sick part. Thomas reflects: “And the same should happen among Christ’s faithful, so that one suffers along with the misfortune of another” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 752).
Paul teaches “If one member is honored, i.e., is invigorated in any way, all the members rejoice.” Thomas observes that in the body, “the vigor of one member yields help to the other members. So, too, should it be in the members of the Church, that each should take joy in the welfare of another” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 752).
Paul instructed the Christians, “I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil 2:17); “Rejoice with those that rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).
Just as a natural body has a head, so Christ is the head of His body: “Now you, who are assembled in the unity of faith, are the body of Christ, according to ‘He made Him the head over all things for the church, which is His body’ (Eph 1:22)” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 753).
Christ is the head of the body through His humanity: “Christ, in virtue of His human nature, is called the head of the Church. For according to His godhead He does not have the nature of a member or of a part, since He is the common good of the entire universe” (First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 753).
Paul speaks of the various gifts within the Church, apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators,, and speakers in tongues. Paul urges them to seek the higher gifts… “So, faith, hope and love abide, these three but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Translated by Fabian Larcher, O.P., may be found on the website, http//dhspriory.org/Thomas/.