As we approach the Feast of Corpus Christi, I want to reflect on the radical implications of the reality that we are one body in Christ. This is a radical message to modern culture, especially the highly-individualized culture of the US.
Individualism for Catholics
Each of us is uniquely created in the image of God. Each of us has free will, to choose or to reject God and each other. Each of us has a unique soul, physical body, mind and capacity of will. All these are truths about individuality Catholics embrace. And they are beautiful truths — but they are not the full picture, not by a long shot.
Individuality in Contemporary Culture
But our contemporary culture holds up for us an individual as an isolated icon – held apart from others. Doctrines of individual rights – such as the created “right of privacy” – even go so far as to justify the “right” of a human being to kill another in abortion. It’s a disconnected understanding of individuality that leads to countless problems in modern society, from abortion, euthanasia, self-harm and suicide to existentialism and atheism – the whole sweep of practices and personal philosophies that fracture and destroy individuals – and society.
What the Holy Father and Catechism say about Individuality
“One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation…The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side…As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God.”( Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, 5:53)
The individual always exists in relation to others. We are born from the union of our parents. We grow up within the embrace of a family…
“The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2207)
And that connection to family shares a wider embrace: parish family, community, nations, peoples of the world – from the principles of subsidiary to the whole human race. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family. In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations, in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God.”(Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, I.vii)
What the Bible says about Individuality
“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”(Romans 12:5)
The reality of our oneness in Christ is part and parcel of our Creation as well as our Baptism. Our connections start with the Godhead and expand throughout His Creation. These connections have the greatest communion in The Church – we who share in worship and receive His Body.
We are never alone. We have a father who loves us, who has counted every hair on our heads, and who has created us for love: to love others as He has loved us. We have a God who feeds us with His body, that we will all be one. Our uniqueness as individuals created in His image is realized most fully in our connection to His Body.
Sing with Dana: We are One Body