Although I had never conceived of the Mystical Body of Christ, a few pieces of the massive chessboard of the mystery of God clicked into place. All at once. We were all connected, all of us. Even if the virtual arteries and connective tissue had narrowed, even closed, due to sin, they were there. They existed. All of those strangers speaking to me through the years, even perhaps praying for me. There was no doubt in my mind, none at all. This was why I had felt this powerful sense of belonging, of being home. So much was made clear to me by this construct. But most of all the effects of our sins and of our goodness on the Body and on each one of us.
What does that even mean: the corporate reality of prayer?’
And why write about it in late January, 2021?
That phrase, “corporate reality of prayer,” connotes mega-corporations and bureaucracy-hardly what is implied by prayer. But it’s the origin of the word, corpartus or ‘to form into a body’ that I write about here. For we are a body- we baptized Christians. Even if the Baptism is but a faint memory. And you uncomfortably joke about the last time you were in a church. you are a member of the Body of Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…”
Surely that phrase is allegorical. How can some water and words take mega billions of people-black, white, men, women, Chinese, African to create a single body?
No, it is not allegory and it is not only possible, but is more real than is the laptop on which I write. The quote at the beginning of this piece is from a book I wrote at the request of a dear friend. “Lin, there is no way I can understand how you feel about your faith, your relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church. These are things I have had all my life. I have never known a life without them. In a sense, I take them very much for granted. But when I listen to you talk about your faith, it’s as if I am listening to a love story… You fell in love, didn’t you?”
My friend extracted my promise to someday write the story of why I walked away and then back. Uncomfortably, reluctantly, I agreed.
Here is just one -of many-examples of my upfront and personal experience with the reality of corporate prayer. Shortly after my conversion, a business acquaintance from Houston and I were at dinner. I had invited her to the academic medical center where I was working to consult with the nursing staff. The business settled, our conversation turned to personal matters and she asked how I was doing. To my broad grin and declaration, “I have become a Catholic,” Nan expressed no surprise. She simply nodded.
Into the silence, I said, “Most everyone in my life is stunned…you’re not?”
Nan carefully placed her fork back on her plate and looked at me, her expression filled with light. “Of course not, Lin, David (head of the IS department at the AMC where I had worked in Houston) and I have been praying for you for years…we knew He had His hand on you, it was merely a matter of His timing.” Then she smiled and said, “Welcome, my sister in Christ.”
To the convert, at least to this one, the process feels instantaneous, like the most famous of us: St. Paul. but, upon reflection, we see that it has been incremental. And understand that our unbelief takes work, energy, persistence, just like faith. Our unbelief is a structure built by human hands, like a wall we build carefully, methodically around us to shield and shelter us from God, from all things religious. But when we ‘lose’ our unbelief, it is not done in an incremental nor rational way. Paraphrasing the words of Edith Stein, the corporate reality of prayer collapses the walls of our unbelief.