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January 1981

There are many parts, yet only one body (1 Cor. 12:20)

Have you ever been involved in a living community of true and authentic Christians? Have you ever gone to one of their gatherings? Have you ever learnt about their life?

If the answer is yes, you'll have noticed that those who make up the community carry out many different functions. There's a person with the gift of words who communicates spiritual realities which touch your soul. Another has the gift of helping, another is good at making all the arrangements; you'll find you are amazed at the good done to those who are suffering. There's a person who teaches so much wisdom that new strength is poured into the faith you have already, another person has the skill to organise, another is skilled at governing, and another person knows how to understand people he meets and cheers the hearts of those in need.

Yes, you can experience all this, but what is so striking about such a living community is the one spirit which inspires everyone, and which can almost be felt flowing as it makes that special society into a unity, into one body.

There are many parts, yet only one body.

Paul too in a very special way found himself faced with very live Christian communities, which had been brought to life by his extraordinary gift of words.

One of these was the young community at Corinth, in which the Holy Spirit had not been sparing in the distribution of his gifts, or charisms as they are called. At that time extraordinary gifts manifested themselves, because of the special vocation which the Church had as it was being born.

Nonetheless this community, which had experienced the exultation of these various gifts that the Holy Spirit had poured out, also experienced rivalries or disorders among the very people who had benefited from these gifts. So it was necessary to turn to Paul who was at Ephesus, for some clarifications. Without delay Paul replied, writing one of his extraordinary letters explaining how these special graces were to be used.

He explains that there is a variety of charisms, a variety of ministries, such as apostles, prophets, or teachers, but there is only one Lord from whom they come. He says that in the community there are those who work miracles, there are healers and those who are helpers in a special way, and others who are administrators. There are those who know how to speak in tongues and those who interpret them, but he adds there is only one God who is their source.

So it is that since these various gifts are expressions of the same Holy Spirit who pours them out freely, they must be in harmony among themselves, they must be complementary. They are not for personal enjoyment, they cannot be a reason for boasting or for self-affirmation. Rather they are given for a common purpose, which is to build up the community. In other words their end is service, so they cannot cause rivalry or confusion.

While Paul was thinking of particular gifts which were important for the life of the community, his opinion is that each member has his own capacity, his own talent to be used for the good of all, and each one should be content with his own. He pictures the community as a body and he asks himself the question: If the whole body were an eye where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? Instead...

There are many parts, yet only one body.

If each person is different, each can be a gift for the others, and like this be himself and so fulfil God's plan for him, in relation to the others.

Paul sees in the community in which there are different gifts at work, a reality which he gives a splendid name: Christ. The fact is that the extraordinary body, which is made up by the members of the community, is truly the body of Christ. Christ in fact continues to live in his Church and the Church is his body. In baptism the Holy Spirit incorporates the believer in Christ, the believer is inserted into the community. In the community everyone is Christ, every division is cancelled, every discrimination is overcome.

There are many parts, yet only one body.

If the body is one, the members of the Christian community live out their new way of living properly if they achieve unity amongst them, that unity which presupposes diversity, pluralism. The community is not like a block of inert matter; it is like a living organism with different members.

For Christians, causing divisions would be contrary to the way they should behave.

There are many parts, yet only one body.

So how are you to live this new word which Scripture puts before you? You need to have a great respect for the different functions, gifts and talents of the Christian community. You must open your heart to all the different riches of the Church, and not simply those of the little Church you attend and which you know, like your parish, the Christian association you belong to, or the church movement of which you are a member. You must open your heart to the different riches of the universal church in all its many forms and expressions.

You must feel it is all yours because you are part of this one body. So just as you take care of and protect each member of your physical body, so you must do the same for each member of the spiritual body.

There are Christians who, with their particular calling, emphasise for you the value of the Christian virtues, like obedience, poverty, chastity, humility or fortitude. Others tell you through their lives that what matters is love of the poor, of the disinherited, of the least. Others emphasise union with God, others the need of bringing back to God those who are far from Him. There are those who are outstanding in the Church for their ecumenical efforts to promote the unity of the Church, and others outstanding for their involvement in the spreading of missionary work. You find those who are dedicated to study who produce significant results and those who dedicate themselves to the spreading of Christian truth, like the Pope and the Bishops, the apostles of today, who govern, teach and guide Christians. You discover gifts that are for today, charisms of this century, which fascinate you and cause you to praise God who is always present. Nor will it be difficult to recognise the many religious families of men and women, who have been inspired by charisms given in past ages and which are still very much alive.

You should appreciate them all, and play your part to ensure that they can make themselves useful to the Church in the best possible way.

If you are not involved in any of these special responsibilities, you should not despise what God is asking of you where you are. For however monotonous your daily work may seem to you, and however much it may seem to be without special significance, yet we all belong to the same body. As a member each person shares in the activities of the entire body while remaining in the place that God has chosen for them.

The essential thing is that you possess that charism which is superior to all the others, as Paul proclaims: the charism of love- love for each person you meet, love for all mankind.

It is with love, reciprocal love, that the many members can be one body.

Chiara Lubich


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