In the past 10 chapters we have heard and seen in action the extraordinary lengths St. Paul goes to minister to the Corinthian church in love.
What is Paul’s secret to being so faithful and so dedicated, in spite of incredible difficulties and suffering? It is this: that he sees the Corinthian church as the very Bride of Jesus Christ.
This requires the exercise of the religious imagination, which is so closely related to faith. In our lives we usually use our imaginations to see things that don’t really exist. In the spiritual life, however, we are required to use our imaginations to see things that, while they are not physically visible, are the most real things of all.
This religious imagination is so important that without it no one will ever see Jesus Christ. I personally (no matter how much I desire it!) have never seen Jesus of Nazareth in bodily, physical 3-cubic feet volume form – and I’ll bet you haven’t either. And yet we routinely say and believe that we see Jesus, don’t we? How can this be? It’s because we see with the eyes of faith. As St. Paul has shown us over and over again, we are the presence of Jesus Christ on the earth. This means, once again, that people see Jesus through us – or, alternatively, they don’t see Him if we don’t faithfully act as His Body.
In Flannery O’Connor’s amazing story, “Parker’s Back,” Parker’s wife, who thinks she believes deeply in God, can never actually see Him. When Parker gets a tattoo on his back because he thinks she’ll like a religious tattoo, it is of Jesus Christ. When Parker shows her Jesus on his back, she asks who it is and says, “It ain’t anybody I know.” Instead of finally being pleased with Parker she tells Parker, “God don’t look like that!” She continues by saying, “He don’t look. He’s a spirit. No man shall see his face.” Parker’s wife had the ultimate in lack of religious imagination and faith.
But we are not exempt from being unable to see Jesus. We may not recognize that it’s no mere offhand comment or nice metaphor that Paul is employing when he says that his desire is to betroth the Corinthian church as a chaste virgin to Christ. This is the literal truth, only we usually fail to have the imagination and faith to see it.
The Church, the one catholic Church and each local church, is betrothed or engaged to Jesus Christ. In heaven that marriage will be finally and fully consummated. And in this life we are to live as a chaste virgin who is to be the Bride of Christ. It is because we are to be the Bride of Christ, that is, one flesh with Him and united with Him, that the Church must be a chaste virgin. The Church of Corinth and the Good Shepherd in Tyler, Texas are the Bride of Jesus Christ and therefore also the Body of Jesus Christ, since we are now one flesh with Him – and therefore we must come before Him as His chaste virgin. We must allow no impure or unholy thoughts, words, or actions to defile her!Paul writes as if there is a real possibility that the church at Corinth may not continue to act as if it truly is betrothed to Christ. One of the causes of this peril is that they too were in danger of not recognizing who they were – the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ. Whenever we get into the kinds of problems the church at Corinth had (more visible in 1 Corinthians) it is a failure to remember who we are. The disunity and factions (accompanied by grumbling against church leaders), pride, sexual immorality, divorce, lawsuits, and abuse of God’s gifts (it sounds just like the Church today!) that the Corinthian church experienced were all due to a failure to recognize that they were the Bride of Christ and were therefore to be holy.
If you can ever remember a person in your life that you were eager to please, then you know what is required of Christ’s betrothed virgin. You may remember a parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, boyfriend or girlfriend, or spouse that you were dedicated to serving and pleasing. Under the spell of such love it was more difficult for you live in an impure or selfish way – even when things got difficult and you often didn’t feel loving.
This is to be much more so for the betrothed virgin of Jesus Christ. Our eschatological identity is to be forever the Bride of Jesus Christ who is ravaged by His love and becomes completely one Body with Him.
We’d better get used to the idea now and live with faith and imagination before our Holy God and Bridegroom. And we’d better do it with all the dedication and zeal of St. Paul.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, come to us, Your betrothed virgin, today. Show Yourself to us through as many means as possible that we may see You for who You are, and that we may know ourselves. Give us the grace to keep Your life before us that we may not stray from that purity and holiness of vision that You demand of Your Bride.
Points for Meditation:
1. In what ways has your single-minded simplicity toward your Master become distracted?
2. Is there another husband you are pursuing in any area of your life?
3. Spend some time meditating on the beauty, strength, and majesty of the Church’s Husband, Jesus Christ.
Resolution: I resolve today to imagine and remember that I am a part of the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ, his holy virgin Church.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson