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January 2009

(Original version January 1981)

There are many members, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:20)

Have you ever visited a community that is alive because it is made up of authentic Christians? Have you ever attended some of their gatherings? Have you tried to understand their way of life? If so, you may have noticed that the people who make up this community have different roles: some have a gift for speaking and can communicate spiritual truths that touch your soul. Others have a gift for helping, caring for the sick, or giving help, and it is amazing how much they can do to benefit those who suffer. Some teach with such wisdom that they invigorate the faith you already had. There are those who know the art of organizing or leadership, while others have a gift for understanding those around them and consoling those in need.

Yes, you may have noticed all of these things, but what strikes one above all in such a vibrant community is that all the members have the same spirit, there is a special atmosphere, something that makes this particular community one body.

There are many members, yet one body.

St Paul also found himself with vibrant Christian communities, communities that had actually come into being through the power of his extraordinary preaching.

One was the newly founded community of Corinth, to whom the Holy Spirit had given gifts, or charisms, as they are called. In those days extraordinary gifts were given for the special vocation of the early Church.

Except that this community, having had the thrilling experience of the gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit began to experience rivalry and disorder among the very people who had received them. Therefore it was necessary to ask for help from St Paul, who was in Ephesus.

Paul was quick to reply through one of his remarkable letters, explaining how these special graces should be used. He explained that there is a variety of charisms and ministries, such as apostles, prophets, and teachers, but there is only one Lord from whom they all come. He said that in the community there are those who work miracles and those who heal, while others have special gifts for serving or for leadership. There are those who can speak in tongues, and those who can interpret them. But, he added, there is only one God from whom all these gifts have come.

Since these various gifts are expressions of the same Holy Spirit, who gives them freely to each person, they cannot but be in harmony with one another, complementing one another. They are not given for one's personal satisfaction, nor should they be a cause of boasting or of pride, but they are given for a common purpose: to build up the community. Their goal is service. They cannot, thus, cause rivalry or confusion.

Although Paul was thinking of the particular gifts that concerned the life of the community as a whole, he saw that each member possessed an individual talent, a special ability, that should be used for the good of all. Each person should be happy with what he or she has been given.

He described the community as a body and asked, "If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?" (1 Cor 12:17-19). As it is,

There are many members, yet one body.

If each of us is different, each is able to be a gift for the others. In this way, we all can be ourselves and fulfil the plan that God has for us in relation to the others. And Paul saw in the community where different gifts are at work, something that has a wonderful name: Christ. The fact is that this body, made up of members of the community, was truly the body of Christ. Christ continues to live in his Church and the Church is his body. Through baptism, in fact, the Holy Spirit incorporates the believer into Christ, and he or she becomes a part of the community. Where all are Christ, every division is eliminated, and every discrimination is overcome.

There are many members, yet one body.

Since the body is one, then the members of the Christian community can bring to fulfilment their new way of life by accomplishing unity among themselves, a unity that presupposes diversity and pluralism. The community does not resemble a block of lifeless matter, but a living organism with different members.

To cause division is the opposite of what Christians should do.

There are many members, yet one body.

How then can we live this new word that Scripture proposes?

By having great respect for the different roles, gifts and talents present in the Christian community. By enlarging one's heart to all the varied richness of the Church and not only the particular community that you know or you belong to, like the parish or the religious organisation or movement you are a member of, but the universal Church in its manifold forms and expressions.

Consider everything as your own because you are part of this one body. As a result, just as you take care of and protect every part of your physical body, you should do the same with every member of the spiritual body...

Value everyone and do what you can so that others may be useful to the Church in the best possible way...

Do not spurn what God is asking of you right where you are. Even though your daily work may seem monotonous and lacking in significance, we all belong to the same body. As members, each one of us participates in the activities of the entire body, even though we remain in the place that God has chosen for us.

What is essential, then, is that you possess that charism that, as Paul proclaims, surpasses all others; and that is love: love for each person you meet, love for all people on earth. It is through love, through mutual love, that the many members are able to be one body.

Chiara Lubich


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