Godtalk: Christmas is for Life

POST BY PKnott

Interior of Notre Dame
The Golden insides of Notre Dame by Trey Ratcliff on flickr

‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life [to the full] in you', said Jesus.  (John 6.53; 10:10)

Jesus is referring to his body insofar as it is not simply his glorified body in heaven, nor simply a communion wafer in a church. What we are being asked 'to eat' is that other part of his body, the community, the flawed body of believers here on earth.

In essence, Jesus is saying: you cannot deal with a perfect, all­loving, all-forgiving, all-understanding God in heaven, if you cannot deal with a less-than-perfect, less-than-forgiving, and less-than-understanding community here on earth. You cannot pretend to be dealing with an invisible God if you refuse to deal with a visible family. Teaching this truth can ruin one's popularity. People then found it to be 'intolerable language' and it meets with the same resistance today.

For example, you join a new parish community. Initially you find the community to your liking. You are so impressed in fact that you get involved both in the parish council and the choir. Eventually, however, as you get to know everyone more deeply, a certain disillusionment sets in.

You learn that your priest has some real faults; that your parish council can be petty and narrow, and the community itself can be quite self-absorbed and seem indifferent to the needs of others, both within the parish and those outside itself.

It all comes to a head one evening at a parish council meeting when someone accuses you of being pushy and arrogant. As you walk out of that meeting, and away from the church you say to yourself: 'This is intolerable! I don't need to put up with this! I'm out of here!'

You have just walked away from Christ's Body on earth; it will always look like that. To say, 'I don't have to deal with this!' goes against the teaching of Christ because this is precisely what he was referring to when he said: 'Unless you eat my flesh you cannot have life within you.'

Jesus is clear. We cannot bypass a flawed family on earth to try to relate to a non-flawed God in heaven. Concrete community is a fundamental element within the spiritual quest because we are Christians. What is original about Christianity is the identification  of God with Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ today.  God is not just in heaven, God is also here earth in the risen Christ.

This exposes a misconception (a heresy) that so negatively influences popular thought today: ‘I am a good Christian, a sincere, God-serving person, but I don't need Church - I can pray just as well as home.’  That can be true, if you believe in ‘God’ without reference to revelation, but it can never be true for a Christian. Part of the essence of Christianity is to be together in a community, with all the real human faults that are there and the tensions this will bring us.

Spirituality, for a Christian, can never be an individualistic quest, the pursuit of God outside of community, family, and church. Matt 25.31f   The God of the Incarnation tells us that anyone who says that he or she loves an invisible God in heaven and is unwilling to deal with a visible neighbour on earth is a liar since no one can love a God who cannot be seen if he or she cannot love a neighbour who can be seen. (1 John 4:20.)

Christian spirituality is always as much about dealing with each other as it is about dealing with God. We are to ‘go in peace’ at the end of Mass, ‘to love and serve the Lord’ through our kindness and concern for each other.

Peter Knott SJ