Collective Responsibility — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Collective Responsibility

Life as Participation

Collective Responsibility
Wednesday, September 8, 2021

In my talks on Paul, I tried to show how Paul teaches that we are both saints and sinners on a corporate level—and at the same time. Our holiness lies in participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ. As I said in my Great Themes of Paul talks:

Individually and personally, our private egos—which we’ve all been trained to take absolutely seriously—are too small and temporary to really believe Paul’s words about us. He says: “You are God’s work of art” (Ephesians 2:10), “You are God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16), “You are the sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15), “You are saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). What is he talking about? On our own, we have so much evidence to the contrary. We simply can’t bear that much goodness. If we hear his teaching on an individual moral level, we’ll never believe it—nor should we. We almost have to dismiss it as pious nonsense.

On the other, more negative side, Paul says, “You’re all sinners” (Romans 3:23), “You’re slaves to the flesh” (Romans 6:20), and “Your sinful passions bring death,” (Romans 7:5). We stand guilty and shame-based under these words if we hear them as individuals. Or we rebel against Paul’s words, thinking, “I’m not going to sit here and be told I’m terrible and unworthy.” Of course, the little psyche, the little ego, is just too little to carry this great big theater piece of drama and shame on its own.

Paul knew, I believe, that these proclamations were far too huge to be carried by the individual person. He is trying to find words and categories, searching for ever-new language to describe the corporate, historical, larger-than-life body and participative phenomenon we’re all caught up in, which he calls “the Body of Christ.”

Fortunately, we now live in an age where we have a language to describe this. The evidence from science is that the foundational reality of this world is consciousness or what we call spirit, not materiality.

We cannot easily be told that we, on our own, are evil, bad, sinful, or responsible. We’ll block it or deny it. But we cannot deny that we are a part of a species that has killed one hundred million people in wars within the last century. We don’t find ourselves resisting that quite as much because, somehow, we’re carrying this together. There is a level of acceptance as we move toward social accountability and social responsibility. We’re all participating in the evil of unjust systems and it’s at that level that we can and must carry the pain and hear that we are sinners. More positively, we must carry what seems like the complete opposite, that we are saints. Both are true at the same time, and believe it or not, “in Christ” they don’t cancel one another out! They include one another.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Paul’s Corporate Understanding of Everything,” in Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 7 (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2002), CD.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations are a reflection and a confirmation of my psychological and pathological making. Thanks to Father Richard, I’m able to pinpoint and fix my spiritual understanding so that I have a new mindset. Like Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans, nothing… “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Elias M.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
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