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Peace Out! Week Eighty-five
The Mystical Body of Christ
Offered by NEC member
Rev. Cody Maynus
Rector, St. Andrew’s-Rapid City, SD
In the little more than two months that I’ve been ordained a priest, I’ve been fortunate enough to celebrate the Eucharist with some frequency, both for my congregation and for visitors to the diocesan camp where I serve as chaplain and program director. (Rest assured, every COVID-19 precaution is in place! Being ordained in the midst of a pandemic has made me hyper-vigilant about the precautions necessary to make liturgy happen during this chaotic time.) A visitor to the camp requested that the Holy Eucharist be celebrated using the prayerbook’s Rite I, which, until that time, I had not had the privilege of celebrating. Although we studied both Rite I and Rite II (and, of course, Enriching Our Worship) in seminary, I decided to prepare to celebrate by reading and praying my way through the text prior to the liturgy.
One phrase from the Rite I liturgy in particular caught my eye and my heart, a line from the Postcommunion Prayer: “Almighty and everliving God, we heartily thank thee for that thou …dost assure us thereby…that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people” (BCP, 339.)
This phrase—the “Mystical Body of Christ”—has deep resonance for me, having studied liturgy at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, a major hub for both the Liturgical Movement and the Catholic Peace and Justice Movement of the 20th Century. Although the understanding of the Body of Christ is an ancient one, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ was popularized by Pope Pius XII, who published an encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ in 1943, smack dab in the middle of World War II.
At the heart of the encyclical, the pope writes, “But a body calls also for a multiplicity of members, which are linked together in such a way as to help one another. And as in the body when one member suffers, all the other members share its pain, and the healthy members come to the assistance of the ailing, so in the Church the individual members do not live for themselves alone, but also help their fellows, and all work in mutual collaboration for the common comfort and for the more perfect building up of the whole Body.”
As is so often the case historically, young people took these words—and the sentiments undergirding them—and ran with it. The student newspapers of Saint John’s University and the neighboring College of Saint Benedict feature at least one article monthly between 1943 and 1950 featuring a student-writer applying the theology of the Mystical Body of Christ to the realities of the War and the War’s aftermath.
These young people write brilliantly and beautifully on the notion that, in Christ, all people are made one. They reflect on the horrible absurdity of War, of people who are united mystically in Christ’s Body fighting and killing one another. They call on the United States, the nations of the world, and the Church to work for racial justice because, as the pope’s teaching says, “when one member suffers, all the other members share its pain.”
Charlene Gaffney, then a junior at the College of Saint Benedict, writes in December 1941—published days after the United States entered into World War II—“We are concerned about our friends and relatives in the fighting area. We are eager to join Red Cross units, to drive ambulances, to join the Marines! These are the first effects of this catastrophe. But already the insidious trickle of hate has reached us, a hatred not of oppression and injustice and lying alone, but also of the nations against whom we are fighting…Hatred blinds and weakens…Hatred is uncharitable and unchristian. Though we recognize that unjust aggressors must be punished, we must realize that they are members of the Mystical Body with us; we are fighting aggression, not aggressors…”
These young people were not only concerned about the violence done to the Mystical Body of Christ by war, but also by racism and white supremacy. One editorial from May 1944 calls on Christians to resist hatred of any person regardless of race, class, sex, or creed. The author—W. J. D.—cites the work of Catherine De Hueck, a Roman Catholic laywoman, in saying that “the fruit of the Incarnation and the Redempetion is the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God” and “We are all our [siblings’] keeper and have a personal responsibility, therefore, before God, for the welfare of that [sibling] in Christ] and this embraces all [people], irrespective of race, nationality, or color, for Christ died for all.”
What does this have to do with us, however? Right here and right now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, surrounded, as we are, by global instability, civil unrest in the streets of our cities and towns, and a pandemic which has shifted our very way of being?
As the Postcommunion Prayer from the Holy Eucharist Rite I says: we give thanks to God in the Eucharist for reminding us that we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. During this period of anxiety—when most parishes have not celebrated the Eucharist physically together since mid-March; when protester file into the streets crying for respect for Black lives; when those “who hold authority in the nations of the world” are of questionable credibility—we are reminded that it is the Eucharist which unites us together and calls us to work for justice and peace in the world, in our cities and towns, and, indeed, even in our own hearts.
The Episcopal Peace Fellowship does not do what it does out of a commitment to a political agenda, but rather out of a commitment to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We are Christians following in a long and steady stream of contemplatives-in-action: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry; Bishop Barbara Harris; Ruby Sales and Blessed Jonathan Myrick Daniels; John Nevin Sayre; Bishop Paul Jones; Blessed Enmegahbowh; Blessed Absalom Jones; and countless others.
When one part of the Mystical Body of Christ suffers due to war or oppression; due to racism or white supremacy; due to gun violence in streets and in schools; due to human trafficking; or due to any other thing which threatens the body, the mind, or the soul, the whole Body suffers. We, as Episcopalians and Christians, are tasked with a ministry of reconciliation. When some among us hurt, we all hurt. And we all must, therefore, take responsibility in the work of healing and reconciliation.
How will you—like those young people writing in central Minnesota in the 1940s—call on your community to engage in this work? How will you ask the difficult questions of your parish, diocese, city, state, and nation? How will you examine your own hearts and consciences?
The good news is that you’re not alone in this work. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship—together with agencies throughout the Anglican Peace and Justice Network—stand by to help you in engaging God’s mission of wholeness in the Mystical Body of Christ. For more information about ways you can actively engage with us, contact Melanie Merkle Atha at epfactnow.
Monday, September 21, 2020 is International Day of Peace! How does your Peace Partner Parish or Chapter acknowledge this day? We’d love to highlight your activities, particularly any virtual celebrations which can be shared with the rest of us so we can be a part of it. Send links to your International Day of Peace event so we can promote them for you here in Peace Out. epfactnow
MOMS DEMAND ACTION
Report of meeting of Maine EPF chapter with Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action,
submitted by Kathy Coughlan (edited for EPF publication):
The two groups met over their shared opposition to gun violence.
Moms was founded after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Now there is a branch in every state, a total of 6 million supporters nationally. They don’t pay dues, but ask members to donate to their sister organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown has frequent video presentations on gun violence prevention by a variety of people that can be used to draw people together around opposing gun violence.
Moms pursues two types of activities: 1) Education and Outreach, and 2) Legislative/political work, which is supporting "gun sense" candidates in state and national elections
The education program is called "Be SMART for Kids," which stands for Secure guns, Model Responsible behavior, Ask about the presence of guns in homes you visit, Recognize the role of guns in suicide, Tell others about the program.
The legislative work involves keeping records of candidates who support gun safety laws. They send out questionnaires to candidates and monitor voting records. Anyone can look up their state’s results on gunsensevoter.org.
In 2016, the Gun Sense campaign in Virginia helped flip the legislature and brought about new, sensible gun laws.
In summary, this is a very organized, proactive group. I think they are a good organization for EPF to collaborate with; our members can look them up in their own state. They are very willing to give presentations and answer any questions.
Your opportunity to view a filmed version of the stage production of "On The Row: Stories from Arkansas’ Death Row" is here! EPF National Executive Council member Kathy McGregor will make this impactful film available to our EPF members, Peace Partner Parishes and Chapters via Zoom on Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 4:30 pm Eastern/1:30 pm Pacific. Tickets available on Classy for a $30 contribution to EPF. Check the link here for video previews of this compelling work.
About The Prison Story Project: The Prison Story Project offered incarcerated women and men an opportunity to explore their truths through poetry, creative writing, literature, song-writing, and visual art. Their work was then curated into a staged reading performed by actors and presented first to those on inside prison, and then outside to the community.
Eleven of the thirty-four men on Arkansas’ death row participated in the Project, including Don Davis, featured above. Six actors and a musician were brought back to Varner Prison’s death row to present the staged reading of “On The Row” to the men. Three months later, the state of Arkansas announced it would execute 8 men over 10 days just after Easter 2017. Four of the men set to be executed were participants in the Project. Two were executed and two received last minute stays.
“On The Row” has been touring the country since 2017. Last year the Whiting Foundation for the Humanities awarded The Prison Story Project a substantial grant which has allowed us to create a filmed version of the staged reading as well as creation of a comprehensive teaching guide to share with other arts organizations interested in replicating our work. EPF looks forward to making this powerful film and the teaching guide available to you in the near future.
A Prayer by W.E.B. Dubois
In the solemn silence of this Thy Holy night, O Heavenly Father,
let the Christ spirit be born anew in this our home and in this land of ours.
Out of the depths of selfishness and languor and envy, let spring the spirit of humility and poverty, of gentleness and sacrifice—the eternal dawn of Peace, good-will toward men.
Let the birth-bells of God call our vain imaginings back from pomp and glory and wealth—back from the wasteful warships searching the seas—back to the lowly barn-yard and the homely cradle of a yellow and despised Jew, whom the world has not yet learned to call Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Amen.