The Orthodox theologian, John Zizioulas, teaches us that we all have a natural biological aspect to our identity. And that each of us also has a supernatural, baptismal or church aspect to our identity. So, do we privilege one or the other of these two aspects of who we are?
On one hand, though we have the same biophysical human-nature, there are absolutely differentiating characteristics between us. We have unique fingerprints; our DNA profile marks us as different from every other person; and new facial recognition technology depends upon slight but importantly distinguishable features that set us apart from all others. These things characterize the natural biological aspect of our identity.
At the same time, though we all have unique and different gifts and ministries (as Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians), we have the same baptismal church identity. We are reminded of this every time we celebrate the rite of Baptism. Quoting Paul in Ephesians, we begin the liturgy by saying, “There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all.”
These phrases tell us that the defining characteristic of the Church is our oneness in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. We can treasure all the unique ways we differ from one another, and the blessings these differences may bring. But with respect to our baptismal church identity, what we share in common has primacy. Individually, we have been given one or more of what Paul describes as lesser gifts, such as prophecy, teaching, healing, leadership and tongues. But he urges us to strive for what he calls the greater gifts, which turn out to be Faith, Hope and Charitable Love, each of which is given by the Holy Spirit for the common good.
And so, with respect to natural created goods, differences and diversity provide appreciable delight, and enrichment. But with respect to supernatural gifts opened to us by Baptism, unity and commonality best express our oneness in Christ.
Light is a frequent biblical metaphor for the gift of God’s presence, especially in John’s Gospel. And the science of light has something to teach us about the Church. Painters know that with pigments in paint, white represents the absence of color, or the absence of difference. But with light, a true white light represents the spectrum of all colors. This is not due to the quality of any single color, but precisely because of the unity of all colors. When it comes to light, if we see individual colors we are only seeing partial aspects of the whole! This gives us insight about the Church. In order to see the whole, we must respect the presence of the parts. And in attending to the parts, we must also respect the unity and oneness that God seeks to form and nurture between us. The ark had the whole spectrum of animals within it. And our ark, the Church, holds and carries all of us!
This post is based on my homily for Sunday, January 27, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.