Monday, January 27, 2014

Christian Unity?

Sts. Peter & Paul
Readings for Sunday, January 26/ Third Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 8:23-9:3
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

How are we building up the Body of Christ? Or more personally, how you and how am I building up the Body of Christ?

Toward the end of John’s Gospel we hear the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in which He prays that we all may be one as He and the Father are one. The perfect union of mind and will that the Father and Son share is what Christ truly desires for each one of us. In fact, the whole mission of Jesus Christ on Earth was of a unitive nature.  When He took on flesh to save us, it was by drawing us into union with Himself as individuals and as a community that that union would be then drawn up into eternity. This is what we hear in the first reading from Isaiah today as the people in darkness have seen a great light. They have wandered looking for something to guide them and the light that is Christ has appeared to them and they are drawn to Him. In the Gospel we hear that this calling of all people to Himself is not done just by generic calling of crowds but by the specific calling of each person to come and follow after Him. Everything Jesus did was with the ultimate goal of uniting broken humanity to Himself and perfecting that union in the glory of Heavenly life.

While we recognize that unitive nature of Christ’s mission to humanity, we also recognize that we often fail to live that unity out in our own lives. It’s nothing new though, as if there was a ‘golden age’ of Christianity in the past and we’ve fallen away from it. Quite the opposite. Paul’s letter to the community in Corinth shows us that shortly after his departure from them rivalries began to spring up and the Christian community was divided among itself instead of being united. And similar things happen in our own day. So the question again for each of us to reflect upon today is how am I building up the Body of Christ? How am I building up the Church?

In reflecting on this question, it seems to me that there are three levels of union to which each of us are called to labor in the Church: personal union, universal union, and local union.

Let us begin with personal union. Are we letting ourselves be truly united to Jesus Christ? It is often the case – and I point fingers nowhere other than myself – that we have good intentions that we fall short of living out. We agree that we should avoid sin, and yet we often cling to our sins and form defenses of them. How many times have we said, ‘That’s just my personality.’, ‘That’s how God made me.’, or some similar line that excuses us from actually working to root sinful inclinations out of our lives? Additionally, are we allowing ourselves the time to encounter Christ and be united to Him? The world around us tries to keep us so busy that we don’t have time for the Lord. Are we letting ourselves be united to Christ?

The second level is that of the universal union with Christ. There is a temptation often in the world today to say that if a person is Baptist that’s okay, if they’re non-denominational, that okay, if they Methodist, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or anything else under the sun, it’s okay – all roads lead to Heaven, right? That view is called religious indifferentism and it is condemned by the Church. Christ didn’t come to us and offer His life on the Cross in order for us to keep following whatever path we feel like. He called us to Himself and to the Church He set up to continue the salvation of souls, and that Church is the Catholic Church. There is a fine balance here between being too soft and too hard on people, but we should be actively encouraging people to become Catholic. After all, if we are who we claim to be, if we are the One True Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Church with the Eucharist, Confession and the other sacraments, the Church which wrote and discerned the holy book we know as the Bible, and are the pillar and defender of the Truth, as the Scriptures say, then why wouldn’t we want others to join us? And while we are at it, let us invite our fallen away Catholics to come home. I don’t need my glasses to see that we have a number of empty seats in Mass today. We have around 2800 families between our three parishes here and if you think that each is at least 2-3 people, then we should be looking at 5-10 thousand people at Mass every weekend and we are certainly far from that mark. Think about how difficult it would be for us if half of our body completely quit working and how much stress and difficulty that would add to the side that is functioning normally. That’s what is happening in the Church here and throughout the whole world. Many in the Body of Christ have simply fallen away and we who remain struggle to press forward still. The crazy thing is that we do more good than any other organization in the whole world. How much more good work could we accomplish if the whole body worked together?

The third level is that of local union. In the Corinthian community there were divisions among the people because they belonged to Paul or Cephas or Apollos, or the perpetual trump card – Jesus Himself. This kind of thing can easily happen in the local church as well with parishes not being open to one another and even being hostile. While we should have a certain pride in being from a particular parish and have a sense of family in that community, it should never be such that we approach things in a manner that implies a sense of superiority because we belong to a particular parish. When we begin to set ourselves against other Catholic Churches in the area. And the same goes for the individual community. When we see a brother or sister in Christ and speak a word of judgment, gossip, negativity, or rejection against them, then we damage the Body of Christ.

There is one person alone who rejoices in such divisions and that is Satan. Christ came to bring life and unity and the devil seeks to bring about death to each of us by separating us from one another. This is his only hope because he knows that as a whole body we are stronger than anything he can throw our way, but if he is able to divide us and separate us from each other and from Christ then we easily fall into his traps. May God grant us the grace today to be instruments of His peace and unity, that drawing closer to Christ ourselves we might be able to work for and enjoy the gift of unity in our Church now and for ever.