If you’re like me, it’s pretty hard to trust this is true within my small self. I don’t know how to believe that I am a child or heir of God on my own; but together with the whole body of Christ it is somehow easier to believe that in our wholeness we are beautiful. We each have our own little part of the beauty, our own gifts of the Spirit, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul says that the particular way “the Spirit is given to each person is for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7, Jerusalem Bible). Paul’s word for this is a “charism”—a gift that is given to you not just for your own self, but to build up the community, to build up the society. As an individual, you don’t have the full responsibility of putting it all together, as the false theology of perfectionism claims. All you have to do is discover your one gift and use it for the good of all.
Paul uses the ingenious metaphor of the body to show how unity is created out of diversity: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (see 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27).
So we, in our corporate wholeness, are the glory of God, the goodness of God, the presence of God. As an individual, I participate in that wholeness, and that is holiness. That’s the only holiness we’ll ever know. It’s not my private holiness; it’s our connectedness together. In Peter’s words, echoing the Hebrew Scriptures, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart, who have been called out of darkness into this wonderful light. Once you were not a people at all; now you are the very people of God” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus’ corporate image is the Reign of God or the Kingdom of God. Paul’s is the Body of Christ. John’s is the journey into mystical union where “I and the Father are one” (see John 14:20).
All of them are looking for a corporate, communal, participatory image of what’s really happening, because the individual cannot carry such glory and greatness alone.
Many call this state of consciousness the True Self. We have to fall through the little events of our life into this True Self. We have to fall through our life situation into The One Great Life. We have to fall through our identification with our small mind into the Great Mind of Christ, as Paul calls it (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). We have to fall through our individual body experience into the One Spirit (see Ephesians 4:4-5), through what is manifest into the Unmanifest. There are many names and descriptions for this consciousness, for example, Being itself, “the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22), the Father, or if you were raised Catholic or Orthodox, the arms of Mary. We are always and only grabbing for images and metaphors, but the important thing is the experience of union itself.
Richard Rohr, OFM