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The Temporal and Spiritual Body of Christ

A story about a very cool thing that happened.

So I’m about to tell you about my highlight from the first Francis Project School in 2021.

It was a moment in time I will never forget. It happened suddenly.

In hindsight, the Holy Spirit had been prepping us for it all year. In His wisdom, the kairos was right and the mini quake that took place made its mark in our memories, and invisibly breathed new life into the pages of history that lay before us.

It was a Church history lesson; one of our retreat sessions. Each of us laced up our ecclesial bootstraps and sat around a timeline, signalling four blocks of five hundred years and the key cultural shifts and schisms that have marked each period: the birth of Christendom, the East-West Schism, the Protestant Reformation and the birth of Pentecostalism.

We gathered around our history.

Immediately we noticed how impossible it is to view our past with neutrality or impartiality.

It is emotive.

The stories before us, as they have been handed down to us, and as they have shaped our identities, sit in the chambers of our hearts where we experience the deepest intimacy.

Intimacy can be ecstatically joyful, but it can also be costly. It can also be painful; when it is withdrawn, or if it has died.

Words came bubbling out. I felt like I was sitting in a family court mediation session, where taking turns to speak became tense, as each party’s non-negotiables were placed on the table. It is like that, because the family has separated and the spoils inevitably had to be divided. We are the children of parents who couldn’t love each other anymore. It didn’t mean they didn’t still love us, but it did mean we didn’t get to play with our cousins anymore.

And some of us are pretty convinced that Dad was right; and others are predisposed to see his dark side and all the reasons why Mum left.

The Church is temporal. The Church is spiritual. The Church is both.

If we over-spiritualise our history and try to decide that the ‘real’ Church is solely an invisible reality in the hearts of true believers, we dismiss our story and deny the brothers and sisters who don’t meet our criteria. If we reduce the work of the Spirit to the boundaries we have decided He works within, we might be surprised to discover that we can’t put God in a box.

In the words of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes, “Indeed, the Church is both visible and invisible. The Church is a visible organisation – a structured society. And the Church is an invisible spiritual community - The Mystical Body of Christ.”

So here was what happened visibly: two of our brothers began to apologise to each other, and to cry in each other’s arms, for all they had dismissed, and all of the history they hadn’t cared to know about.

One was Catholic; the other Pentecostal.

Here’s what happened invisibly: the weight (or kavod) of God’s presence fell, and the weightiness of what it means to be in Christ became felt. Everything that had been made light of, dismissed or ignored (even ridiculed), suddenly mattered.

And we witnessed what God can reconcile, when we are prepared to enter into the fulness of what it means to belong to Him.

By Heather Cetrangolo,

19 January 2022

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