This weekend, JonathanCatholic is helping me out with posts so that I can have a real retreat. Thank you, Jonathan, for being so considerate and kind.
Saint Paul, Grace, and the Body of Christ
“Often have I tried to force them into blaspheming, by inflicting punishment on them in one synagogue after another; nay, so unmeasured was my rage against them that I used to go to foreign cities to persecute them. It was on such an errand that I was making my way to Damascus, with powers delegated to me by the chief priests, when, journeying at midday, I saw, my lord king, a light from heaven, surpassing the brightness of the sun, which shone about me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice which said to me, in Hebrew, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? This is a thankless task of yours, kicking against the goad. Who are you, Lord? I asked. And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom Saul persecutes. Rise up, and stand on your feet; I have shewn myself to you, that I may single you out to serve me, as the witness of this vision you have had, and other visions you will have of me. I will be your deliverer from the hands of your people, and of the Gentiles, to whom I am now sending you. You shall open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive, through faith in me, remission of their sins and an inheritance among the saints. Whereupon, king Agrippa, I did not show myself disobedient to the heavenly vision.”- Acts of the Apostles 26:11-19 Knox Bible
If one is a frequent reader of Sacred Scripture, it is easy to pick up on patterns of thought that show up in the various authors of Scripture. For instance, St. Matthew, in authoring his Gospel, sought to show how Jesus was Messiah promised in the Old Covenant, the One who fulfilled it in the New Covenant in His Blood. St. John, on the other hand, in authoring his Gospel, sought to show the New Covenant in more or less its own Light, and penetrated the Mysteries of the Inner Life of the Holy Trinity as revealed to us in the Incarnation and the Person of Christ. The Holy Ghost moved on both of these men in different ways, forming their thought and their teachings to what He wished them to be to benefit the Catholic Church, and then guiding their expression of those teachings in writing and inspiring their Scriptures as the Primary Author. St. Paul is no exception to this rule. Although the Holy Ghost overshadowed him and inspired the Sacred Scripture that he penned as the Primary Author, nevertheless distinctive of Paul’s thought show up in His writings, for God loves to mediate His power through human beings and their uniqueness.
There are two special distinctive in St. Paul’s thought that I want to call attention to, two emphases, that I believe can be traced back to the conversion of the good Apostle on the Road to Damascus. It appears that when Our Lord Jesus called St. Paul to Himself and commissioned him an Apostle, He gave to him two profound Truths in that encounter that St. Paul would never forget. These two Truths that he repeatedly passed on to his Churches were:1) The fact that we must attribute everything in our lives to grace, withholding none of the glory to ourselves in this life but rendering it freely to God, and making no boast of ourselves or our righteousness while honoring other Christians as greater than ourselves. In Pauline thought and in all of St. Paul’s prolific works, this fact shines forth brilliantly. He presents salvation as a process of being continually called over a lifetime of Christian life to the Father who alone is our chief and supernatural end, through the Son who alone is our Divine and Infinite Mediator, and in the Holy Ghost who alone is the very power and presence of God in our lives liberating us from evil and protecting us and divinizing us, and all of this being made possible only by the grace of Christ. Protestants misunderstand this Pauline concept of grace and think that believing that the grace of Christ is responsible for everything we are and all that we receive somehow excludes both others in the family of God (such as Our Lady) being involved in the working of that grace, and even that it excludes us, the ones on whom the grace is acting, from acting in a joyous and real return unto God. Barring Protestant misunderstanding, ‘grace alone,’ or sola gratia, is actually a Catholic concept and one that we must always bear in mind. All of the Apostles taught grace was necessary for all of our salvation, but St. Paul particularly emphasized it. This makes sense, when you consider his teaching in light of his conversion. Christ literally plucked him visibly out of his own identity and made Saul into Paul dramatically and for the entire world to see; that must have been humbling to St. Paul, and he must have carried with him that memory of grace over his whole life. St. Paul still calls to us, through his Scripture especially, telling us to bow to grace, to allow it into our lives, and to surrender utterly to God so that we boast of nothing and rely on Him for everything. May we all heed that call.
“But, in these days, God's way of justification has at last been brought to light, one which was attested by the law and the prophets, but stands apart from the law; God's way of justification through faith in Jesus Christ, meant for everybody and sent down upon everybody without distinction, if he has faith. All alike have sinned, all alike are unworthy of God's praise. And justification comes to us as a free gift from his grace, through our redemption in Jesus Christ. God has offered him to us as a means of reconciliation, in virtue of faith, ransoming us with his Blood. Thus God has vindicated his own holiness, showing us why he overlooked our former sins in the days of his forbearance; and he has also vindicated the holiness of Jesus Christ, here and now, as one who is himself holy, and imparts holiness to those who take their stand upon faith in him. What has become, then, of your pride? No room has been left for it. On what principle? The principle which depends on observances (of the Mosaic, Old Covenant Law)? No, the principle which depends on faith.”- Romans 3:21-27 Knox Bible
“Only, the grace which came to us was out of all proportion to the fault. If this one man's fault brought death on a whole multitude, all the more lavish was God's grace, shown to a whole multitude, that free gift he made us in the grace brought by one Man, Jesus Christ.”- Romans 5:15 Knox Bible
“…but he (Christ) told me, My grace is enough for you; my strength finds its full scope in your weakness. More than ever, then, I delight to boast of the weaknesses that humiliate me, so that the strength of Christ may enshrine itself in me.”- 2nd Corinthians 12:9 Knox Bible
“Our sins had made dead men of us, and he, in giving life to Christ, gave life to us too; it is his grace that has saved you; raised us up too, enthroned us too above the heavens, in Christ Jesus. He would have all future ages see, in that clemency which he showed us in Christ Jesus, the surpassing richness of his grace. Yes, it was grace that saved you, with a faith for its instrument; it did not come from yourselves, it was God's gift, not from any action of yours, or there would be room for pride. No, we are his design; God has created us in Christ Jesus, pledged to such good actions as he has prepared beforehand, to be the employment of our lives.”- Ephesians 2:5-10
“Beloved, you have always shown yourselves obedient; and now that I am at a distance, not less but much more than when I am present, you must work to earn your salvation, in anxious fear. Both the will to do it and the accomplishment of that will are something which God accomplishes in you, to carry out his loving purpose… In him (Jesus Christ) I would render my account, not claiming any justification that is my own work, given me by the [Mosaic] Law, but the justification that comes from believing in Jesus Christ, God's gift on condition of our faith. Him I would learn to know, and the virtue of his Resurrection, and what it means to share his Sufferings, moulded into the pattern of his death, in the hope of achieving resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already won the prize, already reached fulfilment. I only press on, in hope of winning the mastery, as Christ Jesus has won the mastery over me. No, brethren, I do not claim to have the mastery already, but this at least I do; forgetting what I have left behind, intent on what lies before me, I press on with the goal in view, eager for the prize, God's heavenly summons in Christ Jesus. All of us who are fully grounded must be of this mind, and God will make it known to you, if you are of a different mind at present. Meanwhile, let us all be of the same mind, all follow the same rule, according to the progress we have made. “-Philippians 2:12-13, 3:9-16
“Has he not saved us, and called us to a vocation of holiness? It was not because of anything we had done; we owe it to his own design, to the grace lavished on us, long ages ago, in Christ Jesus. Now it has come to light, since our Saviour Jesus Christ came to enlighten us; now he has annulled death, now he has shed abroad the rays of life and immortality, through that gospel.”- 2nd Timothy 1:9-10
2) The second aspect of St. Paul’s writing was that, out of all the New Testament authors, he alone uses the title “Body of Christ” to refer to the Church which He founded, the Catholic Church. It’s easy enough to imagine why: His conversion! What did Christ say to him when He appeared to him on the way? “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Notice that Christ makes no distinction between Himself and His Church; the Church that St. Paul was persecuting was His very Body, and St. Paul understood this! He saw, in the unique circumstances of his conversion, how Christ was enlightening him to the sublime reality of the Church and intimacy She has with Christ. She is His Body, His Fullness, His Bride; Christ and His Body constitute the Totus Christus, the whole Christ, for though Christ has no absolute need of us, nevertheless He willed to not be complete without us. In the mystical Body of Christ, as St. Paul enlightens us, we are all members of the one Christ, partakers of His one Flesh, His one Blood, and His one Divinity. As St. Paul teaches us, in Baptism we are brought into communion with Christ and all who constitute His Body, most preeminently (I would even say, in a sense, singularly) the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through the power of the Holy Ghost overshadowing the waters, we are knit, every one of us, into the Body of Christ and constituted Christ’s Body just as His Body was formed in the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Confirmation, the unity of the Holy Ghost within the Body of Christ is strengthened in the pouring out of His Presence together with His graces. And finally, in the Holy Eucharist, we come to the fullness of communion with Christ and His members, for it is because we partake of Christ that are one Body, says St. Paul. Finally, the most important aspect of the teaching of St. Paul that the Church is the Body of Christ is that it highlights the Divine marital love with which Christ loves His Church. For in the great Mystery of the Incarnation, God the Son proceeded forth from God the Father and through the Holy Ghost was made man, coming down from Heaven personally to be made one flesh with His Bride, the Church. Just as man leaves his father and mother to cleave to his wife, and the two become one flesh, so too, St. Paul teaches us, the eternal Son of God, our true Spouse, went forth from God and descended to earth to be made one flesh with His Bride, His Church, and so constitute His Church to be His Body, completely physically and spiritually united to Him.
“And it shall be in that day (the institution of the New Covenant), saith the Lord, That she (The Church) shall call me: My Husband, and she shall call me no more Baali (which means, ‘My owner’ in a harsher and less intimate sense than Husband). And I will take away the names of Baalim (Idols) out of her mouth, and she shall no more remember their name. And in that day I will make a Covenant (in the assumption of humanity into God in the Incarnation, the Covenant in the Body and Blood of God) with them, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of the air, and with the creeping things of the earth: and I will destroy the bow, and the sword, and war out of the land: and I will make them sleep secure. And I will espouse thee (wed you, marry you) to me for ever: and I will espouse thee to me in justice, and judgment, and in mercy, and in commiserations. And I will espouse thee to me in faith: and thou shalt know that I am the Lord.”- Osee (Hosea the Prophet) 2:16-20 Douay Rheims
“Wives must obey their husbands as they would obey the Lord.The man is the head to which the woman's body is united, just as Christ is the head of the Church, he, the Saviour on whom the safety of his body depends; and women must owe obedience at all points to their husbands, as the Church does to Christ. You who are husbands must show love to your wives, as Christ showed love to the Church when he gave himself up on its behalf. He would hallow it, purify it by bathing it in the water to which his word gave life; he would summon it into his own presence, the Church in all its beauty, no stain, no wrinkle, no such disfigurement; it was to be holy, it was to be spotless. And that is how husband ought to love wife, as if she were his own body; in loving his wife, a man is but loving himself. It is unheard of, that a man should bear ill-will to his own flesh and blood; no, he keeps it fed and warmed; and so it is with Christ and his Church; we are limbs of his body; flesh and bone, we belong to him. That is why a man will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Yes, those words are a high mystery, and I am applying them here to Christ and his Church.”- Ephesians 5:22-32 Knox Bible
“He has put everything under his dominion, and made him the Head to which the whole Church is joined, so that the Church is his Body, the Completion of him who everywhere and in all things is complete… [be] eager to preserve that unity the Spirit gives you, whose bond is peace. You are one Body, with a single Spirit; each of you, when he was called, called in the same hope; with the same Lord, the same faith, the same Baptism; with the same God, the same Father, all of us, who is above all beings, pervades all things, and lives in all of us. “- Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:3-6
“Each of us has one body, with many different parts, and not all these parts have the same function; just so we, though many in number, form one Body in Christ, and each acts as the counterpart of another.”- Romans 12:4-5
“…the Lord claims your bodies. And God, just as he has raised our Lord from the dead, by his great power will raise us up too. Have you never been told that your bodies belong to the body of Christ? And am I to take what belongs to Christ and make it one with a harlot? God forbid… Let every man give his wife what is her due, and every woman do the same by her husband; he, not she, claims the right over her body, as she, not he, claims the right over his (this is fulfilled in the Holy Eucharist, where the Priest calls down Christ Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, onto the Altar and to be united to himself and the faithful after him. Christ’s Body is made present in the Churches when the Priest calls Him, because His Body is ours, and ours, is His). “- 1st Corinthians 6:13-15, 7:3-4 Knox Bible
“I am speaking to you as men of good sense, weigh my words for yourselves. We have a Cup that we bless, is not this Cup we bless a participation in Christ's Blood? Is not the bread we break a participation in Christ's Body? The one bread makes us one Body, though we are many in number; the same bread is shared by all. Or look at Israel, God's people by (bodily) nature; do not those who eat their sacrifices associate themselves with the Altar of Sacrifice (in the New Covenant, the Altar of Sacrifice is primarily the Cross and secondarily the Altar-Table in our Churches; with both we associate ourselves when we partake of the Sacrifices of the Body and Blood of Christ)?”- 1st Corinthians 10:15-18 Knox Bible
“A man's body is all one, though it has a number of different organs; and all this multitude of organs goes to make up one body; so it is with Christ. We too, all of us, have been Baptized into a single Body by the power of a single Spirit, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men alike, we have all been given drink at a single Source, the one Spirit. The Body, after all, consists not of one organ but of many.”- 1st Corinthians 12:12-14 Knox Bible
Thanks be to God for giving us the great gift, by His grace, of St. Paul to guide us and teach us in the excellency of Jesus Christ our Lord. St. Paul, we pray thee, intercede for us in the presence of Christ, He who you so dearly loved in this life. Guide us all and be with us all, in the unity of the Body of Christ, which unity is so strong that death has no power to break it. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!