June 10, 2012


After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Ė Mark 14: 26

   It would seem that hymn singing has been with us from the very beginning. What is it about hymns that connect us to worship? Well, they can lift up our spirits or make us pensive, but the real reason is that singing can unite a multitude of voices like nothing else. Put five people in a room speaking at the same time & you get an incomprehensible racket. However if they sing, even in different parts, you get harmony. In short, hymns remind us that we are one body, the Body of Christ. They remind us that we are meant to be one, even as Jesus & the Father are one.

   There are analogs in the world around us. Just recently we observed Memorial Day in which we celebrate the deeds of the dead. Soldiers left home, ate military food, suffered hardships in the jungles & the deserts, were wounded, & some died far from home. Because they did all these things, we are free. What they did affected us all. In some kind of spiritual joining, in some kind of deep connection, the soldiers dying on the fields of Gettysburg or in the deserts of Iraq have touched our lives. There is a synergy, a deep action & reaction that binds the human race. As John Donne put it, ďNo man is an island.Ē

   This common experience contradicts the popular philosophy that we are independent, that we live in a world where each person is a separate atom & a solitary individual, a bundle of selfish genes unrelated & unconnected to others. In such a scenario, of course, pain becomes utterly without meaning & utterly ridiculous.

   But we donít believe that for a moment. In fact, in religious terms, we are members of the Body of Christ, interconnected by baptism, joined by grace, united by a common Spirit. What we do or fail to do affects others: our love, our rejection, our prayer, our suffering, our pain. Here, suffering & pain become powerful agents of grace. We have something else to do with pain & suffering: offer it up for the souls in purgatory or anyone else, for that matter. Modern folk find this a quaint thought. It boggles the modern, individualistic mind.

   Christian truth is different. The Christian witness says that we are in physical, psychical, spiritual relationship with one another. We can pray for one another. We can offer up acts of courage, endurance, & suffering for others. We can even die, & somehow in the great cycle of life & love, it can benefit others.

   It is not just that Sidney Carton took the place of his friend at the guillotine in Charles Dickenís novel A Tale of Two Cities. Itís not just that St. Maximilian Kolbe took the place of a prisoner in a concentration camp & died in his stead. It is not just that innumerable soldiers died in World Wars I & II, in the Korean & Vietnam wars, & in all the other wars, died for us that we might be free. Whatís important to remember is that human beings can do things that affect others because we are spiritually joined. Because we are spiritually united, we can direct our energies, our prayers, & our sufferings & deaths.

   A society that sells drugs, facelifts, & pills for every occasion says it is absurd because suffering has no meaning, no redemptive value. But we say it does, for we are the Body of Christ. So you see, this feast is not just about the transformation of bread & wine into the Body of Christ, but also our transformation into that reality. Thanks be to God who gives us such a grand opportunity!  AMEN!