Having Flesh and Bones

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As they were saying these things, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace to you!” They were terrified, however, and fearful. They thought that they were seeing a spirit. So he told them, “Why are you disturbed? Why do you have these doubts? Look at my hands and my feet. I am myself! Touch me and see: a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones the way you see I have them!” Saying this he showed them his hands and feet. 

Luke 24: 36-40

Your life with your brothers and sisters,
centered on the word and worship of God,
is a sharing 
in the memory of Christ.
You are called
to be of one heart and one mind with them
so that you can participate 
in the building up of the reign of God.

        Fundamental Principles

It is in the community that the Body of the Risen Christ continues to witness God’s saving love and to serve God’s loving will for the world. It is a community, however, that is constituted not by ties of blood, race, ethnicity, or affinity, but rather by the presence of the Risen Jesus. Despite all in our human makeup that militates against community, we are somehow made one in a living and formative memory of Christ that comes to know the reality of His presence among us.

The Risen Jesus shows and gives himself to those who are gathered together in wait for him, “in all their sinful and graced humanity.” As Jesus tells the disciples to “touch” his hands and feet, his flesh and bones, so too the Lord can only be known by those who are willing to be close to and to tend each other’s humanity.

The life of the Risen One must be lived out in the flesh or it is not lived at all. Community, as family, has fallen on hard times in cultures whose primary values are self-actualization and self-realization. The concrete lives and eccentricities of others inevitably inhibit our pursuit of personal fulfillment, often including our own sense of ministry. Today’s gospel, however, reminds us that the Risen Lord is to be known only in intimate relationship, in the touching of the actual flesh and blood lives of the others. Our Fundamental Principles remind us that we are to be brothers and sisters to each other and to the world. This means that it is the very quality of our relationship to others that constitutes our vocation. We live our vocation when we are being brother and sister to others, especially to those with whom we are called to live our day to day lives together.

A brother or sister is not primarily a role of teacher, mentor, helper, guide, but rather a sharing and opening of life that chooses to have one’s own life impacted, influenced, and given direction by the life of the other. To be gathered together as brothers and sisters in Christ is to recognize that our communion lies in the Risen One in whom we live and to whom we wholeheartedly listen together for how He is asking us to witness his risen life to the world. As different as we are and as difficult as we can make life for each other, we know that it is as a community that we are the life of Jesus in and for the world.

In today’s gospel, Jesus shows the disciples that he is not a “ghost,” not a nice theological idea or ethical imperative, but rather human flesh and bones. The resurrection can only be real to us to the extent that we touch the messiness of the human condition, that we dare to face the difficulties, pain, and loss involved in truly creating a life with others, in learning by the experiences of trial and error how to be, not a professional or a minister, but a brother and sister to those with whom we spend our lives.

Now note what follows and learn from it. Although Mary was chosen above all creatures to be the mother of God and the queen of heaven and earth, she nevertheless chose to be the handmaid of God and of all the world. Therefore, when she had conceived our Lord, she went with great haste into the hill country to serve St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist, as her humble handmaid until the time when St. John was born. In the same way her Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is both divine and human, after he had consecrated the blessed Sacrament, given it to his disciples, and received it himself, wrapped a linen towel around himself, knelt before his disciples, washed their feet, and dried them with the towel, saying: “I am giving you an example, that as I have done to you, so you also should do in service to one another” (cf. Jn 13: 15).

Accordingly, as regards persons in religious orders, however advanced they may be in contemplation and in their way of life and however frequently they receive our Lord in the Sacrament—even if daily—if an office is entrusted to them or they are chosen to be superior so that they have to serve the community in things which are beneficial to it and without sin, they should do this gladly and lovingly. Even if during their periods of recollection and prayer they feel hindered and distracted because of the things which have been entrusted to their care, and even if they are full of cares over the external affairs of the community, they should not for these reasons be negligent of these matters or resign their office to free themselves of the burden. Rather, they should be obedient unto death toward God and their own superior and community in every matter which is good and honorable and beneficial to the community, as long as in turning inward to God they preserve their love, fear, and reverence, and as long as in turning outward they disdain and renounce themselves. In genuine humility they should consider everything they can do or suffer as being of little or no account. When dealing with members of their community or any other persons they should be gentle, cheerful, and generous, ready to lend appropriate help to everyone in his need with true equanimity.

. . . I say the same concerning all who live outside religious orders if they maintain a state of being turned inward to God in unity with him and if they turn outward to their fellow Christians in works of charity in every necessary way. All such persons are nobler, more advanced, and nearer and more like our Lord than those who merely turn inward in contemplation without turning outward in works of charity, provided that the former have mastered themselves and that their neighbor stands in need of them. Those who wish only to turn inward in contemplation and so leave their neighbor in need do not live a recollected and contemplative life but are deceived to the core of their being. Above all things, beware of such persons.

Jan van Ruusbroec, A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, II, B

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