Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of January 21, 2007
1st reading: Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; Ps 18; 2nd reading: 1 Cor 12:12-31; Gospel: Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21
The Lord speaks, has spoken and will continue to speak in his Church, but men, unfortunately, starting from the highest steps of the hierarchical ladder, continue to ignore his words. If all men, beginning with the high offices in the Church, had been docile, obedient to the word of God and to his teachings, today the situation would be completely different and so many pages of the Church history that are dripping blood and tears would not have been written.
Let us pause to meditate on the passage from the first letter to the Corinthians because it is of exceptional clarity; it emanates a light that is not dazzling but is guiding people.
"For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, form a single body, so it is with the Messiah. For by one Spirit all of us - Jews and Greeks, slaves and free - were baptized into one body and were all privileged to drink from one Spirit. For the body does not consist of only one part, but of many. If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” that does not make it any less a part of the body, does it? And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” that does not make it any less a part of the body, does it? If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? So there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive. However, our attractive parts don’t need this. But God has put the body together and has given special honor to the parts that lack it, so that there might be no disharmony in the body, but that its parts should have the same concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is praised, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the Messiah’s body and individual parts of it. God has appointed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then those who perform miracles, those who have gifts of healing, those who help others, administrators, and those who speak various kinds of languages. Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have the gift of healing, do they? Not all speak in foreign languages, do they? Not all interpret, do they? Keep on desiring the better gifts. And now I will show you the best way of all."
The reasoning that Paul makes refers to a reality that is under everybody’s eyes and this reality must be understood. The apostle follows the example of Jesus who, to make himself clearly understood by people less cultured and less gifted intellectually, used the parable. The parable is different from fairy tales: Tales are about stories whose characters are in the imagination, the parable, instead, tells about reality whose characters belong to everyday life. Paul, who was guided by the Lord starting from his conversion, then during the period of formation and during his apostolate, took this great teaching from Him. The apostle, in turn, transfused, enlarged and given this teaching to the souls whom he brought back into the light of God, with effort and suffering, but with so much love. Paul’s reasoning is clear and simple and starts from what is under everybody’s glance: he speaks of the body. The reason why he pays attention to the body, and also invites others to do so, is to reach an obvious and logical conclusion: the unity of the body, which is formed by different members, must lead us to think of the unity of the mystical body which is the community of the baptized who are in a state of grace. Remember this: the mystical body is the union of man with God through the grace and union of man with his brothers through the love present in the soul when he is in state of grace. Look at this wonderful masterpiece accomplished by God: the human body. Among its members there is harmony and interdependence: the eye, for example, develops its potential and sees many more realities surrounding the body if the legs work because if the legs are motionless the eye has a limited and reduced vision; so the eye needs the legs as it needs the other organs. Every organ needs the other, there is no autonomous, self-sufficient organ that can continue to live detached from the unity and the body as a whole. It is an obvious discovery, imposing for its clarity. The physical body constitutes the image of the Church. Today you will hear for the first time a reflection of such clarity and evidence to push us to ask this question: "Why don’t we do what Paul says, who, in turn, repeats what Jesus says?” Let us look at the Church that must be united: each member of the Church must be united with the others, for if one member of the Church is not united with the other, it is not even united with the other members, even less with God. Paul listed some members of the human body: the eye, the hand, the foot and made a complete and detailed list of the members that make up the Church: "apostles, prophets, teachers, those who have the charisma of miracles, those who have the gift of healings, to assist, to govern and to speak languages??". As the members of the human body are different, in the same way the members of the Church are different and each has a function that helps the others, just as the function of a member of the body helps the others. In the Church there have been critical and difficult times, still recurring unfortunately, and the main reason is because one of the members is standing in opposition to the others. I make an important premise so that you can understand the speech development: in the Church all have received from God a gift necessary to be able to carry out their function; the one who has authority does not exercise it by personal choice, but exercises it because God has granted him the authority to be Pope, bishop, priest, parent, educator and so on. Those who hold authority must exercise it and live it as a gift that God has given them, and being a gift, as all the gifts are, there can be no abuse on the part of those who have authority over those who have no authority but has, instead, other gifts. The one who has the gift of authority must be united and connected to all the other members, so he must be united to those who have the gift of clairvoyance, prophecy, healing; one cannot place himself in a dominating position and look at the others from above, but he must stand on the same level and exercise his charisma by allowing others to exercise theirs. If someone who has the charisma of authority is opposing another, he automatically places himself outside, because God is unity, union, in God there is no division; if a man who got the charisma of authority or power, works and creates divisions, he is immediately placed outside the Church. The conclusion is that just as a seer cannot remain in the Church if he does not exercise his function for the benefit of others and in unity and harmony with the whole community, so whoever has the gift of authority is also outside the Church if he does not practice it in the way the Lord has prescribed. The Lord has prescribed how to exercise authority on the part of those who hold it. "Be the last, be servants, and after you have done all you have to do, say: We are useless servants". This is the spirit that must be in the Church and if only it had been there! We are confident that tomorrow there will be this spirit, and harmony will flow, unity will be stronger and stronger. It is useless to think of achieving union with the separated Orthodox or Protestant brethren if there is no union among Catholics in the Catholic Church. This vision is absurd, it is a view distorting reality; they are like blind men who lead other blind people to the ravine where they can fall. Yesterday, as I was reading this passage, I wondered why we do not listen to God and we do not let ourselves be guided by his word. How much less suffering we would have suffered, we would have cried less and rejoiced more if this union were there. It is not power, it is not the authority that guarantees sanctity and function of those exercising it; there must be life, there must be love and grace, for those who do not have love and grace cannot join their brothers. We must really pray for the unity to be realized. When Jesus made that marvelous prayer where there is the sentence "so that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21), he referred to the union of all his children who believe and accept his Word and who are guided by the hierarchy in a truthful, just and holy way. He could not have talked fifteen hundred years earlier about something that referred to divisions produced by men who call themselves Protestants or, even earlier, Orthodox, his expression referred to the unity of the body. Our Lord desires, and has desired, that this body be harmoniously bound and united with all its members, because He is present in every Church member when he lives in the grace and light of God. Pay attention: I do not deny the validity of the authority if the sacrament of the order has been validly received, I refer to the exercise of authority that may be wrong. When I am before God, He will not judge me from my rank, whether I am a bishop or not, even though I am through him as it happened very few times: at the beginning of the Church history and only once in its history. He will ask me and others who have received the episcopate: "How have you exercised your charisma and your authority?" Where is the proof? "Because I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me" (Mt 25:36). If I, a bishop, have persecuted and made my brother suffer, cannot expect to hear the voice of God telling me: "Enter into the joy prepared for you since eternity. If you are a bishop, a pope or a simple believer and you have not loved me and the members of the Church, I cannot welcome you into my home, go where my enemies are present, those who have denied me, who have offended me, ill-treating the youngest of my brothers."
Behold, my dear, the Church must be reborn animated by grace, light and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, with harmony and unity among charismata, so that we may present ourselves to history and in this third millennium just begun, trying to avoid the same mistakes that have marked the action of men, even those who have guided the Church for so many centuries. No longer there must be errors leading to divisions and conflicts, leading to disunity. The Church belongs to God and we must defend it with perseverance, with our attitude and style of life as well. We must also ensure that others can follow the example and the voice of the shepherd who goes on safely, followed by all the members of the flock. This must be in your heart and must be the subject of your prayer in the Mass that we are now going to celebrate.
Praised be Jesus Christ.