Anyone who has spent some time reading the letters of St. Paul knows that one of the topics that was very close to his heart was the unity of the body of believers, and the dependence each believer has upon others. Building strong, authentic relationships among all of the Christians in a given town or area was something he wrote about frequently, exhorting and encouraging believers and sometimes, if he felt they were failing in this task, reprimanding them for their failures to take this aspect of Christian living more seriously.
One of the most beautiful passages where he reflects upon this subject can be found in the twelfth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians. “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…” (1Cor 12:12) As he progresses through the passage, he likens our reliance upon each other to the way different parts of the body all work together. In a body there are hands and feet, there are eyes and ears, and all of these parts need each other for their own good and for the functioning of the body as a whole. And so it is with us in the Body of Christ, the Church. We need each other and rely upon each other, and are called to care for each other. He concludes this section with the beautiful words, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1Cor 12:26)
The sad reality of our world today is that an extraordinary number of our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of our own body, are suffering. All of us have some part to play in assisting our brothers and sisters who are suffering. I invite everyone reading this to reflect upon what the Lord might be calling you to do. Perhaps it is to help draw attention to a global issue, such as the horrific genocide of Christians at the hands of ISIS in the Middle East. The Knights of Columbus are leading a major drive right now to raise money and draw attention to the plight of Middle East Christians via their #40BucksForLent campaign. Or maybe your heart is closer to home, and the hardships of some of New Haven’s homeless, hungry, immigrants, or others in need move you. In such a case, there are many charities in the city that need both financial and volunteer help, or your calling might be to be involved in our currently coalescing Parish Service to Those in Need Team.
Sometimes “suffering with” someone can be even more basic. Recently after a Sunday Mass there was a parishioner who remained behind in the pews, visibly upset. A woman in our parish went over, sat down next to her and was just sitting there, holding her hand, whispering words of encouragement. It is such a simple gesture, but for someone in a moment of pain, it can make all the difference. The reality of life is that sometimes we are powerless and unable to do anything to actually remove someone’s suffering; but to sit with someone and assure them they are not alone can be an extraordinary act of mercy and love.
May we all do what we can do relieve the sufferings that can be eliminated, and compassionately suffer with those whose sufferings cannot.
Fr. John Paul