Many years ago when I was starting my psych studies I had to take a course on the brain. As I learned more about how my brain worked I became more and more amazed that I ever found my mouth as I raised my fork – it’s that complicated. It gave me a new appreciation for what Saint Paul talks about today – how, in order for the body to work at all, all the parts have to work together.
Of course Paul wasn’t interested in how brains work – his concern was how the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, worked. And Paul was concerned that the Body of Christ in Corinth wasn’t working too well. It seems that some people felt excluded by others, who apparently thought there was a “right” way to be a proper member of the church there. Those who didn’t fit that mold were made to feel unwelcome. And Paul was having exactly none of that.
This message – that all the parts of the body are vital, and have to work together – is echoed in Pope Francis’s Holy Year of Mercy. You may have seen a book-length interview that was published early this new year, The Name of God is Mercy, with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli. Here’s a sample:
At one point in the book, Tornielli asks Francis why God never tires of forgiving humanity.
“Because he is God, because he is mercy, and because mercy is the first attribute of God,” the pope responds. “The name of God is mercy.”
“There are no situations we cannot get out of, we are not condemned to sink into quicksand, in which the more we move the deeper we sink,” he continues. “Jesus is there, his hand extended, ready to reach out to us and pull us out of the mud, out of sin, out of the abyss of evil into which we have fallen.”
“We need only be conscious of our state, be honest with ourselves, and not lick our wounds,” says Francis. “We need to ask for the grace to recognize ourselves as sinners.”
The interview ends with Francis reflecting on the traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
“By welcoming a marginalized person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line,” the pope says. “Let us always remember the words of Saint John of the Cross: ‘In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.'”
The Body of Christ is too-often divided by people set against one another, even down to the petty gripes and resentments that infect parish life. With Lent coming up in a few weeks we have a special opportunity to learn from the Holy Father and to become more merciful toward one another. As Pope Francis says, it begins with recognizing that each of us is a sinner, and we have no place judging others.
The point of the church’s existence is to continue the work of Christ, the salvation of everyone. Pushing others aside by our attitudes doesn’t help that work – it contradicts what the church is about. Let’s work on that together. Until next week, peace.
 From a story in National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2016.