“For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Cor. 12:12-14)
There are many images in Scripture to describe what is essentially indescribable, the amazing grace of salvation, given to us first of all in the sacrament of Baptism. In my Lenten Message this year, I reflected with you on St. Paul’s image of the Christian as an athlete, striving for the imperishable crown of life in the resurrection. Now at Easter, we may turn to another image which St. Paul uses, the image of the Body. This image has been strongly influential in the church especially in virtue of the magisterial encyclical of Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, and remains an enduring source of inspiration for our reflection on our relationship with Christ and, in Christ, with each other.
This image of the body is particularly important at Easter time, when so many accept Jesus as their Saviour by making their profession of faith in him and entering the church, the body of Christ, through the mystery of the sacrament of Baptism. It is a great joy for us each Easter to welcome these new members of Christ. This Easter in our diocese, we welcome almost 2000 new members. We welcome them into the church, we welcome them into the body of Christ. We share with them the profound joy of our incorporation in Christ.
This incorporation of the individual child of God into the body of Christ establishes an intimate personal relationship between that person and Christ. Its incorporation also has a strong communal aspect, for each one of us is incorporated into the whole Christ, the body of Christ As we take on the mind and heart of Christ we take on the mind and heart of the Church. As Christ died for the salvation of the whole world, so the Christian, even the new Christian, is called to share in the church’s responsibility to work for the salvation of all humanity.
Vatican II has taught us to foster a lively sense of responsibility for the evangelization of the whole world. “As members of the living Christ, and made like him by Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, all the faithful have an obligation to collaborate in the expansion and spread of his body, so that they might bring it to fullness as soon as possible. So all the children of the church should have a lively consciousness of their own responsibility for the world, they should foster within themselves a truly catholic spirit, they should spend themselves in the work of the Gospel”. (Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, No. 36)
As we reflect on our incorporation into the whole Christ, we cannot fail to remember that this body of Christ is animated by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit who is love. Our responsibility for the Gospel, then, will always be the responsibility of love. It is one of the glories of our human race that so many men and women should give their lives in voluntary service of those who are most in need. The international community this year celebrates the International Year of Volunteers. This celebration is an invitation to us to be aware of the great generosity that animates volunteers. It is an invitation to appreciate and to be thankful for their unconditional love.
In the church we are also blessed to have many volunteers, both those who voluntarily give their entire lives to the service of the Gospel, and those who give so much of their leisure time to the church’s different areas of service. We are grateful for this love of Christ which urges us to serve. (2 Cor. 5:14) As members of the body of Christ, we strive to serve others, particularly the stranger and the poor, the marginalized and the abandoned, not just as neighbours of the global village, not even as brothers and sisters of the human family, but as people more intimately united with us in the one humanity because of the mystery of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. These new insights strengthen our sense of service, for Baptism is a call to accept and serve all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
“May God our Father, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, renew our lives by his Spirit and help us put into action the new life we received in Baptism.” (Prayer of Easter Sunday) The day of Baptism, the day of our incorporation into Christ, is truly a “day that the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24) May God grant all of us a deeper consciousness of the fullness of Easter joy!
+ John Baptist Cardinal Wu The Bishop of Hong Kong Solemnity of the Annunciation 2001