This “custody” of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community!
The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek “the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another” (Rom ) for our neighbour’s good, “so that we support one another” (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather “the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor ). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community.
The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension.
This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says: “Each part should be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Cor ), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging.
Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good that the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that Almighty God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children. When Christians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoice and give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Mt ).
2012 Lenten Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Reflection – The Pope develops here more explicitly a thought he has already alluded to, and which I reflected on a couple days ago: namely, the degree to which we are truly inter-connected, truly part of one another.
We are such individualists in
North America (I can’t speak for the rest of the world) that this is one of the hardest things for us to grasp. We can choose to be nice to other people, even choose to care deeply for other people. But I don’t think we easily grasp the depths of interconnectedness we share with other people, especially that we the baptized share with our fellow Christians.
‘The other is part of me.’ This strikes us as strange, perhaps. Even unpleasant, perhaps: what’s left of me, then? Do I have no autonomy? Am I hopelessly bound up with all the rest of you losers forever? Don’t I have enough problems of my own without being necessarily saddled with all your problems?
So our thoughts can easily go. But this connection, this unity, this being brought together for better or for worse into a body—all this is working something very deep in us. The great lie of our humanity is that we find happiness/wholeness/fulfillment in some sort of independent stance, some kind of closing off of ourselves from the other. We become fully mature human beings through independence and autonomy.
This is a lie. We become fully mature human beings by so opening ourselves up to the mystery of God that His way of being—the unity of Three in One and One in Three—becomes reflected in our own human life. His way of loving—total gift and total reception of gift—becomes our way of loving.
We become fully mature realized adult human beings by transcending our human limitations and breaking through to the mystery of God and love. This itself is achieved by His grace, by the breaking out of our own self-imposed limits on our actions. But in the immediate sphere of life, the sense of being together, of sharing responsibility for each other, of needing to take care of each other—this is what pushes us towards this transcendence and the maturity it brings us.
Of course, the other name for this maturity is holiness. We are made to be saints; anything less is a tragic waste of a life.