Feast with Joy in the Lord: Together though Apart [Parishioner Reflection]

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A few weeks ago (on March 23, 2020), at one of his numerous press conferences, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared, “The goal for me: Socially distanced but spiritually connected. How do you achieve socially distanced but spiritually connected?” If you watched the live broadcast of this press conference (as I did), you may remember that the governor answered his rhetorical question by saying, “I don’t know.” I happened to notice that this part of the address was erased from the transcript and recordings.

But it’s a common problem in our society and for humanity at large these days. How can we be separated in flesh but united in spirit? Most people can’t answer that question satisfactorily. Yet as we embark upon the Triduum (the “three days” which are holiest to Catholics: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday) we find ourselves in very different circumstances than anyone could have imagined. Separated from one another, separated from the Eucharist, from the sacraments, from our parish community—separated from nearly everyone and every thing we once enjoyed and perhaps took for granted. Yet life goes on.

How then do we answer the governor’s question, relying on our Catholic faith to help shed light on a challenging inquiry? We need look no further than the Apostles Creed, which we recite at the beginning of every Rosary and as an option on Sundays or feast days:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Holy Catholic Church,

the communion of Saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting. Amen.”

Yes, the Communion of Saints! How many times have those words slipped past our lips when reciting the creed and yet how little thought we’ve put into them. I know that until fairly recently, I didn’t think much of this doctrine, this tenet of the Faith. “Forgiveness of sins?” That makes sense. “The resurrection of the body?” A little surreal, but I understand what it’s getting at. But “Communion of Saints?” What’s that?

Simply put, the Communion of Saints is the answer to Governor Cuomo’s question. It’s how you can be socially distanced but spiritually connected with others: with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, your friends who moved away, even those loved ones who have passed on from this life to the next.

The Communion of Saints is a teaching that can (and should) be lived in the ordinary life of the Catholic. Let’s turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (960-961):

The Church is a "communion of saints": this expression refers first to the "holy things" (sancta), above all the Eucharist, by which "the unity of believers, who form one body in Christ, is both represented and brought about."

The term "communion of saints" refers also to the communion of "holy persons" (sancti) in Christ who "died for all," so that what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all.

So it turns out that the Communion of the Saints refers to two, related aspects. The first is the unifying power and reality of partaking in the One Bread and One Body of Christ in the Eucharist. This is something we Catholics have done for years (many of us), until recently when receiving the Eucharist and being physically present for Mass have become essentially impossible.

The other aspect of the Communion of Saints is probably what it’s better known for: the unity of those holy persons (which is what “saints” means in Latin) in their offerings, sufferings, good deeds, and good fruit. The Communion of the Saints first of all urges us to become saints, to be holy people. And second, it encourages us to remember our Lord’s words to us in Matthew 25:40: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” We are all one body, one body in Christ. Yet, what does that really mean in our everyday lives?

You may recall the famous passage in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (12:12-27) in which St. Paul compares the Church—the body of Christ—to a human body. He proceeds to show how ridiculous it is for one human body part to complain about how it doesn’t belong because it’s not another and so on:

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

We are truly brothers and sisters in Christ. Full stop. That’s what we are. We are even more united to one another than sisters and brothers of the flesh. And through our prayers for one another and united with one another, we are truly one in Christ. We can be socially distanced (perhaps down the street, but unable to visit, due to the current circumstances, or even halfway around the world), yet truly spiritually connected and more than connected: united in the God who is One, True, Good, and Beautiful.

This Sunday (however we partake of Easter Mass), we will hear this grand verse before the Gospel:

Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed;

let us then feast with joy in the Lord.

Easter is a time of pure and unalloyed joy! And, like Christmas, it is a time of togetherness. Note that the verse before the Gospel says, “Let us then feast with joy in the Lord.” Let us join together even if miles apart, even if only seeing each other by Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc. and rejoice for Christ who has been sacrificed has arisen as He said! Let us feast in the Lord and increase our genuine desire to receive Him in the Eucharist once again, as soon as possible.

This Easter, unlike any other in our lifetimes, will serve as a reminder to us to live the Communion of the Saints. To tell Jesus and Our Lady to protect and help the family member or friend who needs our prayers the most in that moment. To pray for another and offer up sacrifices, fasting, hours of work, explicitly for them and their intentions. To pray for the dead, perhaps at every meal (“...and may the souls of the faithfully departed through the mercy of God rest in peace”), to remember the sick. In a word, to be unified to Christ through his Church, through his holy ones, both living and deceased.

May the Risen Lord bless you and your family during these challenging days. May we be confident that much good will come, and always does come, out of suffering and anguish if we unite ourselves to the One who conquered pain through pain and vanquished death through death. As far away as I might be from you, you are right here in my heart, you and all the saints, the holy ones of God. 

Live a special Communion of Saints: and, in the moments of interior struggle just as in the hours of professional work, each of you will feel the joy and the strength of not being alone.” (St. Josemaria Escriva)

 

~ Chris Spellman

Comments

  • Deborah CzmyrPosted on 4/08/20

    Thank you Chris for a beautiful and comforting reflection. A perfect reminder that even in our physical lonliness from our loved ones we are accompanied by this mystical body of Christ who have traveled this journey and faced many hardships before us. Happy Easter to you and your family.

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