5th Sunday after Pentecost (EF Calendar)
One of the identifying signs that the Church is of divine, not human, making is its unity. There are, as you know, four marks of the true Church: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. None of these four can possibly be due to human efforts alone. If it were left to man, with his tendency to go wayward, the Church’s marks would be: many, unholy, provincial, and spontaneous–which is precisely what happened as a result of the Protestant Reformation. But the Catholic Church has, although with constant struggling, managed to maintain its true character through the protecting hand of the Holy Ghost. And so, even yet today, we’re still all together, although it seems like comrades having survived a war, after many casualties and much suffering.
One of these four marks of the Church is unity, and our scriptures today make us concentrate on this theme. As I mentioned, the fact that the Church has remained one Catholic Church is evidence of the working of God. The fire that came down from the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day forged a union of believers in Christ. Before that experience the disciples of our Lord had no inner principle of cohesion. They were certainly attracted to the Lord by the power of His words and the witness of His miracles, but this was not sufficient to bind them together in a lasting union. By themselves, there were incapable of organizing and of sustaining themselves in a permanent bond. It’s important to recognize the helplessness of men to unify themselves in a complete and comprehensive way without the help of God. The natural relapsing tendency of man towards disunity stems from the imposed confusion after the vainglorious attempt to build the tower of Babel.
If we examine the ways of God to try to figure out how He does it, how He keeps the Catholic Church in unity, we’ll discover that there is a bond or a link of charity that unites the Church. Love is a unifying thing. Every marriage first began when boy met girl, two individuals at first, and then a bond between them was created out of love. Friendship works in a similar way and the varied degrees of friendship depend on the varying degrees of love between friends. There can’t be friendship among thieves, nor intoxicated drunks. Unity cannot be forced or simulated where real love is lacking, and in the Church, this unity among believers requires a supernatural kind of love. How important it is to know this when we consider the life of the Church! You are I, and you with everyone in this church, and each of you with every Catholic in the world are linked together. If you do not have the love of God which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, you can’t be in the inside. And what makes us persevere in love after it’s been first given is, among other things, our willful agreement of mind and heart. We voluntarily believe in the Catholic faith and we wish that everyone be saved by Christ. Without a common faith (that is, unless we all agree on the creed and all the articles of Catholic doctrine) we can’t be one; in the same way, if we do not will the salvation of all souls we can’t be of one heart. Vain then are all the artificial and superficial attempts to create a unity that is not founded on this oneness of mind and heart. We can’t play ‘pretend’ by assembling together in one building, singing songs, holding hands, exchanging signs of peace and smiling at one another. This is as ephemeral as the passing breeze. Real unity first requires the action of God to unite the Church membership and then it requires the further preserving work of Christians to sustain that unity through faith (agreement of the mind) and through love (that is, the good will coming from their hearts). Saint Paul urges us today to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph 4:3). God gives it initially but we have to keep it going not through sentimentality but effective acts of the mind and will.
There are some practical points to be made from these observations. The first is that we Catholics can’t remain in the one true Church if we are heretics, that is, if we disbelieve even in one thing taught as binding by the Church. In fact, were one to be so bold to do so (and I fear there may be many such) despite the fact that what we believe comes from God and not from men, then such a one would be by that fact excommunicated from the Church, even without any formal decree issued by the bishop. Heresy is a voluntary pulling away from the unity of the Church by an individual who’s attached to his own wish for his own truth rather than the reality of God’s truth. With heresy there can be no agreement of mind with the Church and so disunity and separation must ensue. Only God knows how many there are of these (I would say that there are many who think they’re Catholics but who have made themselves outsiders). They have actually severed themselves from the Church through their refusal to believe. What a terrible blotch on the Church is this the feigned unity of those who gather with loyal Catholics but who are in fact no longer members of the Church through their petulant disbelief!
The other practical point to be derived here is that since neither charity nor unity can be faked, one should not pretend to have them. Where true love does not exist in the Church it’s the result of some sin or other. When sin is removed the pathway to unity opens. Unless each one wills the good of all the others in the Church, there is no bond of love in the soul. And this is why it so vital for a parish such as ours to be one in faith and in love rather than to attempt to be one through artificial, imposed gestures. If there is a Christian fellowship, a community spirit and a social life in a parish, it follows from the unity of belief and charity. If we’re not one here at Mass in the adoration of God and in Communion with Him, our parish social life will be shallow and a pretense. I would like to see great devotion and love for God and neighbor through what we do here at Mass and then, and only as a result of this, will there be a happy getting along in our parish activities and social events.
In the course of the Mass today, I will give you the sign of peace. (Don’t worry! I’m not going to rush down the aisles, shaking your hands.) I will first kiss the altar which represents Christ and thus receive a symbolic kiss from Him, and then I will turn and give it to you: Dominus vobiscum. By this gesture Christ through me wishes you to have His peace and to be at peace with one another. This peace is willed by our Lord in words from this Gospel: ‘be reconciled to your brother’ and it is expressed by Saint Paul: ‘be ye all of one mind.’ To sum up this last point: I would like to see reverence in your conduct in church, then you will be able to show me how our Lord has graced you by your smiles, your glow of joy and in your greetings to each other outside and after the Mass.
The psalmist said it very well: ‘how good, how joyful it is when brethren dwell as one.’
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Only the free can choose obedience to Magisterial teachings. The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; rather, it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!.