Year A Ordinary 23
I often hear different priests or parishes described as, “Oh, they’re a bunch of conservatives or liberals,” or, “They hate Vatican II or they wish Vatican II had changed a whole lot more.” Partly because I’m a convert, I’m a bit of an outsider to this type of discussion, and this example of the fractures in the Catholic Church bothers me, because this is the one place where, out of all places, there ought to be unity. Not that we’re all the same, or that when Pope Francis says to jump we ask how high, but that we accept and love each other regardless of our diversity of opinion. In fact, we love each other in part because of our diversity of opinion, we all have so much to offer each other that is unique and beautiful.
Now, I know that I certainly fall short in many ways and sin against the unity of the Body of Christ by labeling people and saying or acting in divisive ways. If we’re honest with ourselves, this is a vice we can all spend a lifetime working to eliminate. This isn’t a new problem, or unique to our time and place. In the early Church, there were debates so fierce that at one point, St. Nicholas (Yes, Santa Claus) got so angry that he punched another bishop in the face. Another early Bishop, St. Cyprian, once got so heated during debate that he afterwards had to repent and write a whole book about becoming more patient during disagreements. In Our Gospel this morning, Our Lord talks about how disagreements in the Church can become sources of division. When that division takes root, it drives out the presence of God and replaces it with our own egos. This is a disaster because, if what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, division among the faithful on earth reverberates throughout the entire Body of Christ.
When Satan wants to attack, he first begins by dividing. That’s his best tactic and the one that he used so effectively against Adam and Eve, sowing enmity between them and God, then between each other, and finally even between them and creation. His aim is to separate us from God, and he will do so by any means necessary. You might be thinking, I’ll never have unity with that person (you know who you are) 3 pews up. But here’s the thing – you already do. We’re already in this together.
There are 3 ways that Satan tries to divide us:
Hold grudges and gossip
Act rashly without considering others
There are 3 remedies for those specific problems:
Patience and communication
Humility, especially to not judge the motives of others
This is what Our Lord asks of us when we have disagreements, and it’s the effort of a lifetime to put these directives in practice. This isn’t about self-help skills or how to become a likeable person in 3 easy steps, it’s about the accountability that have to each other, to the Church, and to Our Lord.
God unites, his goal in taking on human flesh is to bring us back to heaven with him, to knit us into a common priesthood. Our worship is centered around a sacrament of unity, the Eucharist, through which we share the same Body and Blood. St. Augustine calls it, “O Sacrament of Love! O sign of Unity! O bond of Charity! He who would have Life finds here indeed a Life to live in and a Life to live by.” If you listen, before the consecration the Roman Canon (by which I mean the Eucharistic prayer) asks for unity. Our lives are buried with Christ and raised with him, when we receive the Blessed Sacrament we receive it as a sign of our Oneness.
Our common identity springs from this deep source, the person of Jesus Christ. Not from marching in lockstep about what hymns we like, or which denominational beliefs we line up with the best. We are here because of God-made-flesh, who took on all of humanity and redeemed us down to the very last sinner.
Being united to Christ means that we are also united to his Church, for he has made himself one flesh with her and he loves her. This means that we have unity here with each other in this parish but also with the whole Church, with our bishop, and we are united with the entirety of the Catholic and apostolic faith: those who came before, those who will come after, all the saints in heaven…
This Church doesn’t belong to you and me, she belongs to Jesus, he is our beginning and end, and we are all accountable to Him, called to enter into a deeper reality based in the divine love. St. Paul says that this is the fulfillment of the law. St. Andrew of Crete elaborates, saying, “The fulfillment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit…this is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man.”
Christ is at the heart, and he unites us in love. Love, remember, bears all things, forgives all things, is patient, gentle, and kind. It is the tapping finger that knocks day and night at the gate of our soul. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t allow Satan a foothold. Don’t grow accustomed and immune to God’s love. He is in our midst, granting us one heart and one mind – and it is truly a miracle.