Recollection February 2019

1 Cor. 12:12-17, 27.

          In the Recollection for the month of January we centered on the principal objective of Life in Communion, “to have one soul and one heart directed towards God.” To achieve this objective of life, the grace of God is absolutely necessary, and consequently, our search and effort for the construction of communion is indispensable. In this recollection of February we emphasize that all the members who form part of the body or community have an important contribution to enrich it. Therefore, the communion of the members and the mutual enrichment will have no meaning if the body is not united to its Head, since life proceeds from there. Jesus Christ is the Head who gives life and unity to the community, and it is the Eucharistic food and vigor that sustains the members that they may contribute their wealth to the community and remain in the unity of the community. The text of 1 Cor. 12:27: “You are the body of Christ,” was very important for St. Augustine. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist we unite ourselves to Christ, and with him and in him to the whole body of Christ. The Body of Christ is the Church, and the body of Christ is also the Augustinian -Recollect community in which I live.

I prepare my heart.

I welcome the gift of this day of recollection. I prepare myself by observing silence. I choose a comfortable place where there will be no external noise that may distract me in my encounter with God. If I notice that a member of my body is tense, I concentrate on it, I move it, I apply pressure to it and I release it. I silence my desires to express words with my physical tongue and my desires to perform activities. I retain consciousness of them but I let them pass. I silence my interior faculties, my fantasies, my internal images, my thoughts, my feelings,… I simply perceive them, I become conscious that they are there and I let them pass. I focus on those elements that disturb me within myself and put them in the arms of God. I situate myself in the quietude of my being and of my heart. With my heart disposed, I invoke the help and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

Together we sing: “Veni Creator Spiritus.” After the song, we recite together this prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul who believe in Christ is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God (s. 128,4).

I open my heart.

I situate myself in a special room of my heart before Christ, my interior teacher.

All of us seated around the Teacher Jesus Christ, we listen to the Word of God.  With the heart well disposed, with serenity, read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing yourself to be touched by them.

          For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body –Jews and Greeks, slaves and free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 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?… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

I return to my heart

Biblical keys

During the Last Supper, Christ gave to his disciples the commandment to love one another: “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34; cf. 15:12). He instituted the Eucharist that nourishes the mutual love making us receive in communion the one bread and the one chalice. Christ himself, who has called the brothers to build up communion within the community, everyday convokes the brothers to unite them to himself and among themselves in the Eucharist, to transform them progressively into part of his Body living and visible, a body enlivened by the Spirit, on the road to the Father.

          In the literature of ancient Greco-Latin culture, many authors use the figure of the body to explain the relation of one-many and the intention is to have the small ones in society submissive in a society dominated by a few.

          Paul utilizes this comparison in this text and in the Letter to the Romans (Rm. 12:4-5) with an intention very different from the social medium that surrounds him. He establishes that the persons, who possess gifts apparently humble in the Christian community, are valued and respected. This brings us to think of the Old Testament Tradition concerning the poor and the humble of whom the prophets speak (Is. 1:10-16; 9:9-10:4; Ez. 18:12ss).

          In this perspective, it is significant how Paul cites parts of the body that are small in size but fulfill very important functions in the body: the eye, the ear, the hand and the foot (vv.14-18). This is an admonition to leaders of the community, in order that they may not fall into the danger of underestimating the little ones and in this way, they will overcome the inequalities that creep into the communities (vv. 12-13).

On the other hand, the foot, the hand, the eye and the ear, as personification of the little ones, can fall into the temptation of depreciating their contribution to the whole body, and not integrate themselves into the community to fulfill the less conspicuous functions, by which they fall into the temptation of devaluating themselves or of being devaluated by the community itself (vv.15-20).

This comparison is an example for the community to grow in the esteem of the weaker members, emphasizing that their mission is very important, because these organs further represent the human activity itself. The eye and the ear are organs of learning, and the foot and hand symbolize the human activity of work and locomotion. They do not function independently, but that their functions affect the internal and external activities of the body to which they belong.

Our text ends with an exhortation to the reader that he may feel involved by the sense of pertaining to a community of believers: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (v.27).

St. Paul finds no logic that some of the members of the body say he does not need or he is not interested in the other member who is possibly far. Rather, all are parts of one same entity, all are mutually connected and united in communion, in such a way that the good of one reverberates favorably in others, and the harm or suffering of one member, also affects the others.

Paul expresses a new sense of belonging to the readers and members of the Church. It is a body in which everyone is important, it is a belonging in the inclusive sense, not exclusive. This image brings us to understand better the meaning of communion and participation in our community life as believers and consecrated persons.

Augustinian Keys

          For St. Augustine there is a key in the double meaning of the words “body of Christ.” One of them is the substantial meaning, the other is the mystical sense. On the one hand, there is the sacrament of the Eucharist which is the real and substantial body of Christ, and on the other, there is the Church which is the mystical body of Christ.     

          You are transformed into me. Taking part in the Eucharist makes the believers not only receive the body of Christ but that, in the Augustinian Eucharistic thought, receiving the body of Christ  means incorporating oneself into the mystical body, occupying the place that corresponds to the believer within the body of Christ. Thus, in the Confessions, St. Augustine reminds us that upon receiving the Eucharist, it is not that Christ becomes a part of our body, but that we are transformed and converted into the body of Christ: “I am the food of the great: grow and you will eat me. You do not change me into you as the food of the flesh, but rather you will change yourself into me” (conf. 7,16). (We become what we receive.)

          A founding communion. Thus it is, that for St. Augustine and for the whole patristic tradition, there exists a reflection that is oriented to a double meaning. In the first place, to signify what is the fount of the communion, and this is no other than the Eucharist. This admirable sacrament is the fount, the foundation and the food of the communion: “Whoever wants to live, has where to live, has with which to live. Come near, create, incorporate yourself in order to be vivified” (Io. eu. Tr. 26, 13).

          Every believer is called to live a pristine and founding communion, which is communion with Christ, to be able afterward, through him, to be in communion with the Father through the love of the Spirit. And this primary communion is the gift which the believer receives, and must let it grow, through personal prayer, continual conversion and the devout reception of the Eucharist, the sacrament of communion, “sacrament of devotion, sign of unity, bond of charity” (Io. eu. Tr. 26, 13). In this way, what Jesus affirms is made real: “He who eats me will live by me” (Jn. 6:57), thus, as the reflection which the Gospel of John on the vine and its branches invites us to make, it is necessary to discover that all spiritual vitality and fecundity proceeds from Christ, the True Vine (Jn5:4).

          The primary communion with Christ the Head necessarily brings with it a communion with the Body of Christ, even though it is given in the second level, in the level of action. It concerns the communion with all those who form part of the body of Christ. It is a communion in Christ and for Christ with all the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

          In this way, the communion with Christ the Head, through the reception of the Eucharist and the living out of profound devotion, must necessarily bring me to the union and communion with whoever are also members of the Body of Christ, that is, with whoever form part of the Church: firstly, with my brothers in the community, and secondly, with all the members of the Church, who like me are Body of Christ: The faithful know the Body of Christ if they do not neglect to be Body of Christ. Let them be made Body of Christ if they want to live of the Spirit of Christ. No one lives of the Spirit of Christ except the Body of Christ” (Io. eu. Tr. 26, 13).

Love is what creates communion. The power which unites and makes cohesive the Body of Christ, which is the Church and also the local community, is LOVE. What happens in the Body of Christ is the same that occurs in the Blessed Trinity. The different Persons who form the mystery of God are intimately united and in perfect communion by the POWER OF LOVE. Thus it must be said that WITHOUT LOVE NO COMMUNION IS POSSIBLE. And with St. Paul it is precise to affirm that LOVE IMPLIES FORGIVENESS, RECONCILIATION, SERVICE; believes all things, bears all things, hopes all things. That is why St. Augustine says: “When this Spirit, God from God, is given to man, it inflames him with love of God and of neighbor, because He is Love” (trin. 15, 17, 31).  

Coherence in Communion. If my community is the Body of Christ, all the brothers are invited to live full communion with Christ the Head and with Christ the Body. And since the Head cannot be separated from the Body, it cannot be said that one lives in intimate communion with Christ the Head if one lives separated Christ the Body. In other words, I cannot say that I love Christ if I do not love my brothers, who are the Body of Christ. Furthermore, it would be incoherent to receive the body of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist, if I do not live in communion with the Body of Christ that is my community.

Whoever has broken the communion with his own community, for whatever reason, – anger, no reconciliation, rancor, pride or indifference itself-, cannot receive the Body of Christ because he himself is not Body of Christ. The Gospel reminds us: I cannot present my offering to God, if I am not reconciled with my brothers. It is necessary first to be reconciled with the brothers, break down walls that separate us and impede the communion inside the community, and only afterwards approach to receive the Body of the Lord, the sacrament of communion. Thus, St. Augustine says: “Feel no repugnance for the bond of the members, be not a rotten member who deserves to be amputated, be not deformed that you must blush for it; be beautiful, be proportioned, be healthy, adhere to the body” (Io. eu. Tr. 26, 13).

A challenge of ecclesiality, fecundity and sanctity. To live the plenitude of communion in the community is a challenge of ecclesiality, apostolic fecundity and sanctity. It is a challenge of apostolic fecundity, since living in communion with Christ and with the Body of Christ must bring us to feel as our own the needs and the deprivations, the joys and the fatigue of the universal Church: “If the Mother Church call for your assistance … Obey God with humble heart, bearing with meekness whoever governs you” (ep. 48, 2).

Sanctity is also a challenge. Christ is holy and he sanctifies his Church with the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Thus to be the Body of Christ is to live the vocation to sanctity, allowing oneself to be transformed by the power of the Spirit, living what St. Augustine calls the deification, which is nothing else than living to the full our condition of sons of God, giving witness to it and inviting all to the communion in the Body of Christ who is holy.

The fount and foundation of communion is the sacrament of the Eucharist. How is your participation in this divine mystery?

I am the Body of Christ because every time I receive communion I receive what I am. How do you live the call to holiness?

Communion is a challenge to apostolic fecundity, upon feeling myself part of the total Body of Christ which is the Universal Church. How do I live this universal apostolic challenge?

I raise up my heart.

          We give thanks to God for the gifts, the strength and the enlightenment that he gave us on this day of recollection. For this the following words of St. Augustine may serve us:

          If someone eats of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world. … The faithful know the Body of Christ if they are not careless to be the Body of Christ. Let them be made the Body of Christ if they want to live of the Spirit of Christ. No one lives of the Body of Christ except the Body of Christ. … Oh sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! Oh bond of love! Whoever wishes to live has where to live, has with which to live. Come near, create, be incorporated to be vivified. Feel no repugnance for the bond of the members, be not a rotten member that deserves to be amputated, be not deformed that you must blush for it; be beautiful, be proportioned, be healthy, adhere to the body; live of God for God; be exhausted now on earth, to reign afterwards in heaven (Io. eu. 26, 13).

“Behold the Lord of the angels became man that man may eat the bread of angels” (s. 225, 3).

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Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.