In today’s apostolic reading St. Paul is addressing the Christians in Ephesus when he writes, “It is Christ who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart.”
Who are the “two of us” to whom he refers? In the portion of the epistle immediately preceding this part it is clear that he is writing about the division between Jews and Gentiles. He is referring to both a physical barrier and a spiritual one.
The Temple in Jerusalem had various sections. The most outer one was the court of the Gentiles into which anyone could go. Between that court and the next, the Court of the women, restricted to only Jews, there was a balustrade wall about five feet tall. Posted in many places on this wall were stone plaques, one of which was found by an archaeologist in Jerusalem in 1871. The plaques had the notice.– some of them in Latin and some in Greek – “No foreigners may enter within the balustrade and enclosure around the Sanctuary. Whoever is caught will render himself liable to the death penalty which will inevitably follow.”
This is some barrier, indeed.
St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, however, stresses that Jesus Christ, in his own flesh, has abolished such divisions between people. This is not just his own flesh on the cross but, more importantly, his own flesh in the Eucharist – the source of our communion with him and with one another. The basis is Christ, himself.
As we say, “The Body of Christ makes the Body of Christ the Body of Christ.”
Prior to Christ, people were separated from one another and from God. Jesus brings a two-fold healing: the creation of a unified humanity through his Incarnation; the raising of unified humanity to God by his Resurrection.
Through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. Our prayer – our relationship to the three persons of God – is to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
Paul writes that we are being built into a temple. This is not the stone and mortar Temple of the Old Covenant but, rather, the new Temple formed of the Church’s members as living cells. The members contribute to their mutual growth and to that of the whole organism – the Church.
The Church is humanity unified and renewed through union with Christ. He is the foundation of the Church from which comes the Sacred Scriptures and all of doctrine. The Church is designed to be united.
We, as Catholics, are united. Our neighbors from St. Joseph Parish or St. Peter Parish, St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Parish or any of the other Catholic parishes are just as united to us as we are to one another and as they are to one another. True, we celebrate the Eucharist with different prayers, ceremonies and vestments than the Roman Catholics, but we still have that essential unity. We can receive holy Communion in one another’s churches because we are in full communion with one another. There is no real division regardless of the differences.
You notice, I hope, that we commemorate the hierarchy – our bishop, our metropolitan and the pope – four times during the Liturgy and one more time at the preparation of the bread and wine before the public Liturgy begins.
This is more than prayer out of charity or justice. It is to express that we are in communion with the hierarchy and, therefore, with one another. When a bishop celebrates the Liturgy he also commemorates all the bishops of the Catholic Church to demonstrate that he is in communion with the whole Church and, therefore, all of the Christian faithful of his eparchy (diocese) are in communion with the whole Church.
All the more sad is it that there are barriers between us and so many Christians who aren’t Catholic. Because of the Great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054 A.D. and the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, we lack full Christian unity and are not in communion with them nor they with us. Because the Eucharist is both demonstration and effector of this communion they cannot receive holy Communion in our churches nor we in theirs. To do so would be, from our perspective, to express a lie.
Nevertheless, through baptism into Christ, we share partial unity with all of those who have been baptized into Christ, Catholic or non-Catholic.
Take time this week to reflect on the fact that we are all one in Christ. We are all in relationship with one another. We are in communion.