In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (I Corinthians 6:19) Unfortunately, the English language does not distinguish between the singular and plural form of the second person pronoun; namely, “you” and “your.” However, the Greek language in which this letter was originally written does distinguish between the two. If we read the original Greek, the interpretation of this verse is entirely different than what we usually hear in English: “Do you (plural) not know that your (plural) body (singular) is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you (plural), whom you (plural) have from God, and that you (plural) are not your (plural) own?” Read in the Greek, we realize that St. Paul was not speaking to us as individuals. Rather, he was speaking to us as a community, as a group – indeed, as a Church.
In today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul also addresses our relationship with the Holy Spirit. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:30-32) Once again, the two instances of the use of the second person pronoun (you) is in the plural.
Middle Eastern people, to whom the letter was addressed in the first place, do not think of themselves as individuals; they think of themselves as members of a group, a clan, a family, a village, etc. This group consciousness is shared with 80% of the world’s population. Let me illustrate that point with a story. “An anthropologist proposed a game to the children of an African tribe. He placed a basket of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got to the basket first would receive the sweet fruit in the basket. When he gave them the signal to run, they all joined hands and ran to the tree together, then sat in a circle enjoying the treats. When he asked them why they had chosen to run as a group when they could have had more fruit individually, one of the children responded: ‘UBUNTU. How can one of us be happy if all of the others are sad?’ The word ‘Ubuntu’ means ‘I am because we are.’”
The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us as a Church, as a community of believers. So it is only natural that St. Paul tells us that the attitudes which grieve the Holy Spirit are those which destroy the community; namely, bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling, along with all malice. One does not need to look very far for examples of how these attitudes can destroy any hope of living together in peace and good will. Rather, St. Paul tells us that the mark of our community must be that of kindness toward one another, compassion, and forgiveness. These attitudes are necessary to preserve community and to allow it to flourish.
In the Gospel today we hear of the people “murmuring” at Jesus when he declares that he is the Bread come down from heaven. Again, the word is chosen very deliberately. It is the same word that is used in the story of the children of Israel during their sojourn in the desert where they received the manna from heaven. The evangelist is deliberately trying to tie the two stories together. Jesus says to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” (John 6:43b) As he continues his discourse on the Bread of Life, it is becoming more and more evident that the Bread of Life is not something that we can acquire for ourselves as individuals. The Bread of Life is given to us because Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself for us, for the group, for the community. Those who would participate in the Bread of Life must be willing to do the same. We must become what we eat, not simply as individuals but as a Church.
Before we gather around the Table of the Lord to receive the Bread of Life, we should first ask ourselves the question that little child poses: “How can one of us be happy if all of the others are sad?” There are many ways for us to pose the question. To be sure, it can be asked in terms of our wealth: “How can one of us be so rich when all of the others are poor?” It can be asked in terms of our response to Pope Francis’ plea to take care of our environment. How will this planet survive if one group steals all of its resources without concern for the future of humankind? It must also be asked of us as members of our. How will this community of believers survive if we don’t all work together?
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds us together; however, that glue will only be effective as long as we treat each other with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator