SEPTEMBER 7, 2008- 23RD SUNDAY: MATTHEW 18:15B20
WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME, THERE AM I IN THEIR MIDST. When Saint Basil provided direction for groups of serious Christians around the year 380 AD, he gave importance to the human need to live in community. AThe human person >anthropos= is not a solitary,=monastikos=. Only in community, by close, personal association with others, can we humans so develop as to live a life worthy of our nature, and of our call. Later on, Basil=s teaching in fact was adopted by men and women who came to be called monastics >monastikoi= and giving a new meaning to the word that is still used today. Monks and nuns are members of a community; even though they live a life of solitude, yet they are not solitary in the sense of being isolated. Just as married persons share their goods and their interests in large part, so also do monastics join with others with whom they share not only goods but also their interests and beliefs. This communal dimension of the spiritual life is based on nature, and has been reinforced by the words of Jesus that we have just heard in today=s Gospel. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.”
Our Lord’s words apply, of course, not only to those men and women who live in religious communities, but also to the faithful who are married. Marriage, as the Church teaches, is a sacrament, a joining together of a man and woman that is blessed by God. When it is done in the name of Jesus, in compliance with his teaching, both partners relate to God in a new way; they are consecrated not only to one another, but also to God. Their children come to share in this consecration that is completed by their baptism. All who put their faith in Jesus as the risen Lord come together with one another, in fact. Saint Paul stresses this truth of faith, giving prominence to the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. The essence of this teaching is that Christ Jesus died and rose for all, and in doing so makes of those who believe in him members of his intimate circle. Much as the many cells of the human body in their varied operations, function as a single whole in the service of the whole person, so are the members of Christ united as to form a single person, united in the Spirit whose indwelling makes us one body.
Saint Augustine developed this teaching further, giving it elaborate expression and broad application in his preaching and writings. Above all in commenting on the Psalms, which from the time of our Lord himself formed the basis of Christian prayer, the Bishop of Hippo indicated how intimately the faithful Christian is united with our Lord, so that our inmost aspirations and our most personal desires participate in the praise and intercession of Jesus himself. In one of his commentaries he states the case in these terms:
This Psalm is spoken in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, both head and members. He is the head, we the members. Not without good reason then, his voice is ours and our voice is also his. Let us then listen to the Psalm and recognize in it the voice of Christ.
For this truth of our faith to find adequate expression in our lives we must take it into our heart and see that we apply it to our life. There is nothing automatic about our faith; it has never been sufficient to give verbal expression to our belief; we must activate it and respond to its requirements. Whether living in a monastery or in the world, whether married or single, we must daily strive to live out our conviction that we belong to God in Christ, and consequently to one another. If our prayer is united with the prayer of Jesus even now as we come together in this Eucharistic service, we must come prepared for a participation that expresses what is deeply present in our heart. To engage in such prayer presupposes a way of life that includes daily personal prayer, meditation on the word of God, holy reading and a serious study of our faith. If we are to take seriously this fundamental truth that we are members of Christ, united with one another we will strive to avoid all those harmful associations and activities that are in conflict with his words and example. We must renounce useless and worldly occupations and employ our time and energy in the service of the mystical body, and find ways to witness to the truth of the Gospel for the sake of our fellow members and for gaining those who are not yet believers.
Jesus’ assurance that he is here present in our midst as we come together in common prayer is at once a source of strength, and an invitation, even a demand that we commit our self to a way of life that witnesses to his presence among us and his continuing concern for us all. By making this program our own here and now we truly give glory and thanks to God for his love and gracious gift. This is the meaning and purpose of our presence here at this Eucharistic celebration.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger