In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples reply that some say John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet. When Christ presses them further, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter steps forward and answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ, responds:
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, by my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I build my Church.”
As Simon names Christ, Christ renames Simon. Simon’s recognition of Christ’s identity merits him a new identity, both by name, and by acceptance into God’s family. Simon, once son of Jonah, becomes Peter, child of God, disciple of Christ, the rock of the Church.
Our Christianity—our proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord—brings forth a new identity in all of us. The process first begins at baptism. On our behalf, our parents and godparents echo the sentiments of Peter through a profession of faith while the priest, describes our new identities through the words of the baptismal rite (emphases mine):
“You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
Not only does the baptismal garment symbolize the state of our souls, freed from original sin, but it also reflects on the nature of clothing as a sign of identity. A priest in his collar, an athlete in his uniform, a mother with a diaper bag slung over her shoulder - what we put on our bodies says something about who we are. During our baptism, we are clothed with Christ - the pure and spotless victim, symbolized by a pure and spotless garment.
The white of our baptismal garments also represents the invitation of Christ to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, social status, or gender. Despite the divisions we impose on one another through our many secondary identities, Christ makes no distinctions among the members of his Father’s house. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians:
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Our primary identity in Christ is universal and unified.
So, what does our identity in Christ mean for us in the day to day? The baptismal rite covers that too.
“With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that [Christian] dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
St. James puts it a slightly different way:
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
To the best of our abilities, as members of God’s family we must do two things: care and keep.
Care: Be a doer of the word! Who needs your help? Ask God to show you who the orphans and widows are in your life, i.e., who needs you to provide something for them, whether it is material, emotional, or spiritual support. At some point, YOU will be a widow or orphan for someone else. When that time comes, ask God for the humility to accept help.
Keep: Keep spotless your baptismal garment! Avoid the near occasion of sin, and when you don’t, repent and start over. Go to confession, receive the Eucharist, and spend as much time as you can in prayer. Grow close to Christ through your own sanctification.
These directives from the baptismal rite and St. James depend on one another. The closer you are to Christ, the more you will serve his people. The more you serve his people, the closer you are to Christ. Notice that the baptismal rite specifies that you need the help of your “family and friends” to maintain your Christian dignity. You’re not in this alone. You have an entire community of believers behind you. Let’s be doers of the word together.
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Frequently in the bible, we read that we are all members of one body, making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group, the church. Although I’ve heard and read this teaching several times, for most of my life I still saw the church as a building. Sadly, this imagery left me with gaps in my understanding which impacted my spiritual life.
In Spanish, the word “compartir” means “to share.” One of the biggest impacts that mission and life in Bolivia has had on my spiritual life is the “compartir” culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone.
I am currently serving as an overseas lay missioner at the Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC). So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. People don’t always have much, but they are always happy to share what they do have. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home to share about Bolivian culture with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.” Their desire is to share.
I learned a great lesson on what it means to share while on a recent trip to a local town with a group of students in Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games, shared in music, celebrated mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge.
Because I was so amazed by all of the sharing, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to share a reflection about the trip.The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been “mas o menos”, “more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed.
Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been sharing as one.
I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during mass, we had all come together as one group to share in praise to God, to share in the word of God, and to share in the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there as one.
I want you to close your eyes now and come up with an image of church. I’ll admit that every once in awhile, I’m still going to picture a building. This building may have the most pristine stained glass windows, with beautiful mahogany pews, and a perfectly polished tabernacle. But no matter how beautiful the building may be, this image still leaves gaps. Because no matter how many people are packed in that church, there are still hollow spaces when it is just a building.
Like Jesus taught us, we are the church. As the church, it is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. The truth is that we aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out and share. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread the gift of sharing as one people, we begin to fill voids.
The desire of my students to share and to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day. I’m learning how to see myself as a part of a larger, complete body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published through the Catholic Volunteer Network in May 2018. It has been reposted with permission.
Magdalene Van Roekel is a volunteer with Franciscan Mission Service
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. –1 Corinthians 12:27
I commute to work every day by train through Chicago’s “loop.” It’s the perfect place for
people-watching. Recently, I was on a busy sidewalk when a woman who looked rather tired and disheveled pushed a stroller near the crowd with her child. Behind me were two very elegantly dressed women in a hurry. The woman with the stroller asked the passing crowd, “Can you spare some change for our next meal?” It’s a question that I’ve heard too often downtown. I felt a pang of sadness and guilt. Often, I am unsure how to respond. The women behind me continued on past her and began commenting: “What a horrible mother”; “Of course I’m not going to help her out. Why would I want to give her my money?” Those comments hurt even more than seeing this poor mother and child suffer.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” The mother and her baby, the women behind me, and all those who are a part of my community of friends and family are of one body. As stated in Lumen Gentium, “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body.
In that Body the life of Christ is poured into the believers who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ who suffered and was glorified.” We live as one with Christ and with one another even amidst the poverty, injustice, and messiness we experience.
This letter from Paul to the early Church deepens their understanding of the Body of Christ and its physical makeup. Each person has a function within it which works alongside the other members and promotes the common good. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful.” I often fall into the temptation of removing myself from a group who seems holier than me, those who are more involved in their community or are outspoken in ways that I’m not. I even tend to exclude myself from the community of pedestrians walking down the sidewalk. I forget that we make up the Body of Christ and that if others suffer, I suffer. If others rejoice, I rejoice. I also share a part of myself with each of them. One of my mentors once said, “Our goal is always to connect. Even if it’s uncomfortable, we are made for relationship.” As a Christian, I am called to notice those in the community around me and to connect with them.
Mystici Corporis Christi, the encyclical from Pius XII, also outlines the meaning of being a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. “Each member of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ, if authentic, is integrally bonded in soul, and hopefully in heart, through the Incarnation, by the Spirit, with Jesus, Son of God, and son of Mary, divine and human,” wrote Msgr. Owen F. Campion. We are bonded in soul and heart because of Christ’s physical and spiritual sacrifice as the Son of God. We become whole in him and in relation to others. As members of the Church, we are called to be a family who loves and cares for others, even those outside of our communities.
In all circumstances, the Body of Christ leads me to a holier life. When I am doubtful or uncertain, my faith community allows me to grow. When I’m overwhelmed, others will kindle the fire of faith within me. I fully experience joy when I experience it with others and share the Good News and the love of Jesus. I may do this differently from a trained hand who provides, or a speaker with a gifted tongue, but I’m using my gifts as a member of the Body of Christ. We are called to take part of this community through our unique identity with authenticity.
I paused that day on my commute because of this mystical experience of community. I witnessed the pain of the poor mother and child on the Chicago sidewalk, and the harshness of the response of the two women who were walking near me. I became more aware of this truth in the wounds and challenging emotions I experienced. I feel pain because I am connected to all people in some way. Conversely, I can feel joy if I make small choices to build up the Body of Christ. St. Paul outlines this for us, and we hear it in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, “Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We must pay attention like Jesus would, and love our physical and mystical body.
Questions for Reflection: What unique gifts can I share with others as a member of the Body of Christ? How can I become more aware of the communities I live in?
“May is Mary’s Month,” began the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, in “The May Magnificat.”
For centuries, the Catholic Church has emphasized the month of May as a time of honor and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Parishes and families often celebrate with special pilgrimages, devotions, or placing a crown on a statue of Mary, traditionally called a “May Crowning.”
On April 29, 1965, Pope Blessed Paul VI promulgated his encyclical Mense Maio (“The Month of May”), which promoted May devotions to the Blessed Mother, knowing that, “the person who encounters Mary cannot help but encounter Christ likewise” (n. 2). Despite being a lesser-known encyclical, its timing and topic are revealing. Released on the eve of the last session of the Second Vatican Council and amid escalating violence and unrest of the Vietnam War and the 1960’s, the help of Mary was “a matter of top priority” considering “the present needs of the Church and the status of world peace” (n. 3). The words of Paul VI are just as relevant today. In our contentious social and political climate, focusing on Mary is not a pious distraction from real issues, but a vital source for grace, truth, and mercy.
A Short History and Practice
May devotions to Mary began in the 13th century, but there is little information to know how it was celebrated. In it’s present form, the practice of May devotions to Mary originated within the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in the 18th century under Father Latomia of their Roman College. Shortly afterwards, devotions were adopted at the Jesuit’s mother church in Rome, the Church of the Gesù, and then began to spread throughout other area churches to the entire globe. (Pope Francis, who is also a Jesuit, has a special devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots, a phrase first attributed to St. Irenaeus of Lyons who said, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by the obedience of Mary”).
The image of Mary wearing a gold crown appears in early Eastern and Western iconography, drawing inspiration from the Coronation of Mary as understood in Catholic biblical tradition based on the passage from Revelation 12:1. Some churches and families participate in a special May Crowning celebration. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) first placed two crowns on the Marian icon called “Salus Populi Romani” in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, but the crowns were later lost. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1838, Pope Gregory XVI once again added crowns in a special rite, officially starting the tradition as it is still performed today.
One reason the devotion has come to extend over the entire month is the abundance of Marian feast days in May: Mary, Queen of Apostles (Saturday before Pentecost – May 14th, this year), Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), Mary Help of Christians (May 24), and the Visitation (May 31).
Mary in May Today
Seeking Peace- Pope Paul VI’s encyclical was especially concerned with peace, invoking the “intercession and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Peace” (n. 10). Amid ongoing persecutions and violence in many areas of the world, turning to Christ though Mary is an important way to pray that May becomes a month of peace.
Honoring the Family- Mary receives an important role in Pope Francis’ recent Exhortation Amoris Laetitia- The Joy of Love: On Love in the Family. He states, “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth” (n. 30). Pope Francis goes on to say, “The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families” (n. 30). Pope Francis reminds us that by honoring Mary, we honor Jesus and our families.
Honoring the Body- Our culture and Church desperately needs the figure of Mary before our eyes as an exemplar of the dignity and uniqueness of women, especially in light of the real and present danger of pornography. The USCCB has also created a pastoral guide regarding pornography “to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms.” This month, ask Mary’s intercession for an end to this destructive force, and healing for those deeply affected.
Honoring Your Mother- For good measure, May also celebrates our biological Mother’s Day (May 8, don’t forget!). Let Mary’s month be a new reason to honor and celebrate your own mother.
There is no lack of reasons to stay close to Mary this month, and throughout our lives. Find ways to honor her with your words and actions by seeking new ways to bring about mercy and peace through our churches into our hurting world.