If members of the Church are sick, however eminent in their office or mission, the Mystical Body remains intact.
When times are explosive, when the world is shaken to its foundations by choices that go against natural law and against God, nothing is spared, no one. It is therefore not surprising that the Church, in its structures, also suffers the repercussions of this critical state. The faithful are in danger because many are disturbed, worried, saddened and risk letting their guard down through weariness, losing at the same time this sensum Ecclesiae, this sense of the Church, which allows us to remain firm in the storm.
In the midst of the Second World War, Pius XII, well aware of the devastating effects on minds and souls, published a profound encyclical in 1943 entitled Mystici corporis, “Of the Mystical Body”. This text inspired by the whole Tradition will continue to guide his successors in this field. The pontiff writes:
“To define and to describe the true Church of Jesus Christ one can find nothing more beautiful, nothing more excellent, nothing finally more divine, than this expression which designates it as “the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ”; it is that of the rest which flows, which flourishes, so to speak, from what the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers frequently expose to us. »
And he continues:
“The Church in its constitution can be compared to a body. It must be called, not just any body, but the Body of Jesus Christ. And this concludes with the fact that Our Lord is the Founder, the Head, the Sustainer, the Savior of this Mystical Body. »
It therefore follows that all the other components of the Church are only members, from the pope to the most simple believer, passing through the entire hierarchy and all categories. This means that, even if members of this Body are sick, however eminent they may be in their office or their mission, the Mystical Body remains intact and in good health because no man is its origin, end and head, only Our Lord is and remains so. This should appease many tensions, sufferings and revolts, but this is only possible if everyone really looks at the Church for what it is, and not for a simple – although remarkable in many respects – institution human.
The Head needs the whole Body
In this Body we are truly and effectively united with Christ, and it is this Church that has the promises of eternal life, not its imperfect structure. This Mystical Body is also a perfect social Body animated by the Holy Spirit and we are joined to it thanks to the three theological virtues — faith, hope and charity — to the Holy Eucharist and to the divine gifts planted in our souls. Pius XII, taking up Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians (1, 18), develops:
“Just as the head is the ‘royal summit’ of the body, as Saint Ambrose says, and all the members, over which it presides to provide for their needs, are naturally directed by it, endowed for this purpose with superior qualities, thus the divine Redeemer holds in his hand the tiller of all Christian society and directs its rudder. As the head in our mortal body has the advantage of possessing all the senses while the other parts of the organism enjoy only touch, so all that there is in Christian society of virtues, gifts, charisms, shines with perfection in its Head, Christ. »
The Head needs the whole Body, as Saint Paul reminds us in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (12, 21). The pope insists on this aspect, however explosive, namely that “we must nevertheless maintain, although it seems truly astonishing, that Christ requires the help of his members. He wants to receive help from the members of his Mystical Body to accomplish the work of Redemption”.
Do not mix up
This has the merit of putting everything back in its proper place and therefore, in times of crisis and trial, of reassuring and pacifying. The Argentinian Jesuit Leonardo Castellani, so persecuted within the Church, already wrote in 1945:
“My friends, as long as there is something left to save — with calm, prudence, reflection, peace and firmness, imploring divine light — we must do what we can to save it. And when there’s nothing left to save, the soul is still there that still needs to be saved […]. Today, the commandment commands to stick to the essential message of Christianity: to flee the world, to believe in Christ, to do as much good as possible, to detach oneself from created things, to beware of false prophets, to remember death . In a word, to testify to the Truth by one’s own life and to desire the return of Christ with ardor” (“As long as there is something left to save”, in Truth or Nothingness, reed. 2021).
A temptation against the faith would be to confuse the Church, Mystical Body, with some of its rotten members, however numerous. We must not confuse the Church with its clothes, gleaming or miserable. The Church never disappears, even if some or many of its hierarchs are infidels. The Church is first of all that which is at the service of the Head, the saints, the humble, the just, those whose zeal is ardent, whether they are also numerous or a few — it matters little. It only takes one Saint Francis of Assisi to enlighten a century. When the Church, which is Mother, suddenly turns into an abusive stepmother, it is not a question of the Mystical Body but simply of such and such a member who abuses her power, her authority. We must have faith in the eternal Church, so old already with its two thousand years but never disfigured despite the sin of the men who compose it or direct it.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing
The risk is to compare the ages of the Church with criteria which are obviously not those of God. We only see the wrinkles and we conclude that she has never been worse than today, or, on the contrary, than yesterday. God laughs at these sweeping judgments, like those who pride themselves on living in a time that is supposedly more perfect and purer than the previous ones. If we believe that the angel of destruction will prevail over the reign of Christ, then we are not believers. Our Lord has already won, definitively, and it is not the hesitations and betrayals of his clerics and his faithful that will confiscate this definitive victory over evil and over death wrested at the price of Blood on the Cross. When the Church—some in the Church—is false and merciless, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing but not members of the Mystical Body. Impersonal bureaucracy, bad pastors cannot claim the name of the Church. They can of course be significant and damaging obstacles to the Gospel message, but they do not sum it up. What is unfaithful and what is faithful in the Church will remain inextricably linked until the Master commands the Harvest and the tares are finally separated from the wheat and thrown into the fire. In the meantime, it is not for us to be reapers, we who are, from greatest to least, members obedient or trying to obey the Head who is Christ.
Participate in the work of redemption
In the book of Revelation,the fifth angel, that of the Church of Sardis, proclaims: Esto vigilans et confirmed cetera, quae moritura errant (“Be watchful, and preserve the things that remain, the things that are about to die” Rev 3, 2). It is an invitation to collect carefully two thousand years of teaching, not to let any piece go to waste – as in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, to hold on to this inexhaustible and savory nourishment of the whole Tradition of the Church. The Mystical Body of Christ lives on this sap which irrigates all the members, or which should irrigate them. It is up to each one to make an effort to learn, to know, to put into practice, to respect and thus, to participate in the redemptive work of Our Lord, according to our modest means and our humble place. It is good to snuggle up within this Mystical Body, not to flee the world but to enlighten it by receiving the light of Christ.
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Dwell in the Church, “Mystical Body of Jesus Christ”
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