Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tuesday in the 24th Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope & Martyr, & St. Cyprian, Bishop & Martyr
Healing Broken Bodies

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31a; Psalm 10:1b-2, 3, 4, 5; Luke 7:11-17
Picture: CC Brian Ledgard

Bodies have been very much in the news over the past week – broken bodies to be exact. Just two examples will suffice. The horrific Chatsworth train-crash – the worst in the US in the last 15 years – left 25 dead and 135 injured. Further to the east, the so-called China milk scandal has thus far claimed the lives of two infants, and sickened more than a thousand other little ones. We will likely hear of more victims in the days ahead.

Investigations are ongoing in each of these disasters. And perhaps we shouldn’t preempt the findings. Even so, we cannot help but ask questions. Why, we may wonder, does the world’s sole remaining superpower continue to operate a railway that has trains running on the same track in opposite directions? Why had better safety mechanisms not been put in place earlier (see LA Times Editorial)? How could people bring themselves to contaminate infant formula with plastic, only so as to deceive others as to the formula’s actual protein content? Why weren’t remedial measures taken earlier? Whatever the answers, it does look as though, in both cases, cost considerations have been allowed to override those of public safety. In both cases, what has resulted are broken bodies.

And broken bodies of different sorts are also what we find in our liturgy today. In the gospel Jesus encounters the corpse of a young man who had been the sole security and support of his widowed mother. In the first reading, Paul’s concern is to heal the broken body that is the Christian community at Corinth – divided by competition and conflict. And in the time of the two saints we celebrate today, the Christian community was suffering both from external persecution as well as internal doctrinal disagreements. Perhaps in reflecting upon what we find here, we might obtain some guidance as to what it takes to mend broken bodies of whatever sort.

Paul offers us the first useful tip by highlighting the diversity that exists in the body that is the church. The body is not a single part, but many. In itself, this realization is already an essential step towards holding the body together. What we seek is unity rather than uniformity. But Paul goes further. The integrity of the body depends also upon the integrity of each individual part. The unity of the whole depends upon each part recognizing and playing its own assigned role, without trying to usurp the roles of others. Individual and communal integrity is essential to the healing of broken bodies.

And, as Jesus shows us in the gospel, so too is compassion. Although we need to focus on our own work, although we need to play our own assigned role, we are not to go to the opposite extreme of seeking only to mind our own business. Both as individuals and as a community, we need to be very much in touch with all that goes on in the world around us. Like Jesus, we need to allow ourselves to be affected by the many broken bodies – physical, social, spiritual… – that surround us. When the Lord saw the widowed mother, he was moved with pity for her…

But, as the lives of both Cornelius and Cyprian show us, efforts at mending broken bodies often incur terrible costs. Both saints suffered much, and ultimately gave their lives for the sake of unity. Like Jesus before them, they allowed their own bodies to be broken for others. Even so, this is a cost that yields an infinitely incomparable return – life eternal in the kingdom of God.

What and where are the broken bodies seeking to attract our attention today?


  1. It's quite a coincidence to read about the train crash as I was in tight traffic this morning and thought to myself, "If one of us does not give way, our cars would crash."
    I recall driving along the scenic narrow country roads of Ireland many years back, and was struck by the courtesy and patience shown by road users who were prepared to back even a hundred metres to let another vehicle pass by. There are gracious drivers on this world!

    Isn't life sometimes like that? If we had known that a headlong relationship collision is imminent, would we take the effort to put on the breaks to avoid the cost of broken bodies and broken spirits? Or perhaps we should really be travelling at a slower, more mindful pace to begin with.

    And perhaps to really cover our bases, seek divine guidance about the wisdom of taking that journey in the first place, for only God would have had the birds-eye view of the imminent collision, and be able to guide us to a safer place of being.

  2. Physical bodies are destroyed when humans commit violence on one another. Terrorists, murderers, and heinous acts of all sorts rob humanity whether in the form of bodily hurt or insidious poisoning of the environment. We witness these acts daily and it must bring pain to our God when the world seem so perverse.
    When I look around me, I also see brokenness of another sort – those that are deprived of love, those that are emotionally abused and especially some that are mentally subjugated through verbal bashing. Beyond bodily injuries, their scars are deeper and sometimes become impervious to love. These are the ones that reaching out mean a lot to me. Can I bring temporary healing and let the wounds find their own salve when they have learned to cope?
    Pray always that I will be sensitive to those around me that may have need of gentle encouragement, a nod, a smile, a pat of the hand to inform them that we are kindred souls all in the same search, reaching out to God’s love and compassion.


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