Ordinary Time Week 19: Wednesday

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Saint Peter Chrysologus comments on this verse from the Gospel proclaimed at today’s Mass:

“There are those who presume that the congregation of the church can be disregarded. They assert that private prayers should be preferred to those of an honorable assembly. But if Jesus denies nothing to so small a group as two or three, will he refuse those who ask for it in the assemblies and congregation of the church? This is what the prophet believed and what he exults over having obtained when he states, “I will confess to you, O Lord, with my whole heart, in the council and congregation of the righteous.” A man “confesses with his whole heart” when in the council of the saints he hears that everything which he has asked will be granted him.

Some, however, endeavor to excuse under an appearance of faith the idleness that prompts their contempt for assemblies. They omit participation in the fervor of the assembled congregation and pretend that they have devoted to prayer the time they have expended upon their household cares. While they give themselves up to their own desires, they scorn and despise the divine service. These are the people who destroy the body of Christ. They scatter its members. They do not permit the full form of its Christ-like appearance to develop to its abundant beauty — that form which the prophet saw and then sang about: “You are beautiful in form above the sons of men.”

Individual members do indeed have their own duty of personal prayer, but they will not be able to fulfill it if they come to the beauty of that perfect body wrapped up in themselves. There is this difference between the glorious fullness of the congregation and the vanity of separation that springs out of ignorance or negligence: in salvation and honor the beauty of the whole body is found in the unity of the members. But from the separation of the viscera there is a foul, fatal and fearful aroma.” (Sermon 132)

Pondering today’s Patristic passage...
Even in fifth-century Italy, Peter Chrysologus — the saintly Archbishop of Ravenna — essentially addressed a pastoral dilemma still heard all too often in our day: ‘I can pray on my own, I don‘t need to go to a Church building on Sunday.’ While a discussion of what it means ‘to pray individually’ versus ‘to worship communally’ is certainly important and valid, Saint Peter Chrysologus takes a different approach: beauty. All members of Jesus’ Body united to and with Him form a living organism whose beauty attracts others, not to beauty itself but beauty’s Author: God and Father of us all. With the necessary graced pastoral work of helping our sisters and brothers to reconnect with the Body of Christ (the New Evangelization), how does «beauty» affect the way we minister to one another?

Almighty ever-living God,
whom, taught by the Holy Spirit,
we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray,
to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption
as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter
into the inheritance
which you have promised.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen