Sunday, January 19, 2014

Homily for Today

"To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." [1 Cor. 1:2] This passage of the Holy Bible prepares us next week that will begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us that the mission of the Church embraces a requirement of its catholicity. "The Church's mission stimulates efforts towards Christian unity. [RMiss 50] Indeed, 'divisions among Christians prevent the Church from realizing in practice the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her sons who, though joined to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all its aspects.'" [UR 4 # 8] (C.C.C. # 855)

During today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, [Is. 49:3, 5-6] the chapter opened with the second of the Suffering Servant Songs, this one being addressed to the Gentile nations. The Lord expressed His love for Israel, indicating that through that nation, He the Lord would be glorified. [Is. 49:3] Through Israel, the grace of God would shine forth worldwide.

Through Isaiah, the Lord prophesied that He would bring Jacob back to Him, uniting it with Israel in order that both people may be united as one. This prophecy would be fulfilled through Jesus Christ, the Servant of God, who would be formed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. [Is. 49:3] As biblical history tells us and our recent celebration of Christmas, by the birth of the Lord Jesus within the Jewish people, its tribes were united as one people.

In His infinite Wisdom, the Heavenly Father saw that it was "too small a thing that Jesus should be His Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel." [Is. 49:6] Not only would Jesus be given as a light to the Jewish people, but also to all the nations, that His salvation may reach to the end of the earth. [Is. 49:6] This objective of the Heavenly Father, an act of grace, love and mercy, set in motion the progressive Divine Plan that would implement the ministry of salvation to all mankind.

Today's Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 1:1-3] affirms that it is the Divine Will of God that His people be united. Through St. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, [1 Cor. 1:1] the Church of Corinth was urged to be united. While thouching on the subject of St. Paul, it should be noted that while he was not one of the twelve apostles, he was an authentic apostle by virtue of His Divine Calling.

St. Paul emphasized that by virtue of their Baptism into Christ Whom God had made our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, [1 Cor. 1:30, 6:11] the faithful are called to be saints with those of every place. By their admission into the Body of Christ through faith in Jesus and the Sacrament of Baptism, the faithful are "a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" [Exo. 19:6] just as Israel was a holy nation by Divine election. In Christ, the faithful compose the Israel of God, forming a sacred assembly, the community of the Lord.

This truth is further affirmed by the words of Paul where he states, "together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." [1 Cor. 1:2] To call on the name of the Lord as seen in the Old Testament is an expression of faithful unity in adoration. [Ps. 99:6; Joel 2:32]

Speaking to the Church of Corinth, St. Paul emphasized to the local faith community that it must be united together with all those in every place, those of the universal Church. This was stressed because of the division that existed in the Christian community of Corinth. The believers were called to be united with both their Lord and the Lord of the others, this meaning that both, the God of the universal Church and the God of the local Church of Corinth was the One and same God. Furthermore, the unity of the faithful was identified by their common adoration of Christ.

The Second reading concludes with the statement, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." [1 Cor. 1:3] As some of you may be aware, the standard salutation in many of the letters of St. Paul expresses a desire of grace and peace upon the believers. The expression of grace echoes the gracious goodness of God. Peace is the fruit of the salvation that God gave us through Christ. It includes the forgiveness of sins and our reconciliation with God as well as harmony with others for the successful unity of the Body of Christ. While we strive for peace, it must be realized that perfect peace will only be realized when the redemptive work of Christ is completed, at His final coming.

After the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father of you and I. He said, "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. I ask not only on behalf of these (the Apostles) but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one. As You, Father, are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given them, so that they may be one, as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me." [Jn. 17:19-23]

Because of the perfect unity of the Father and the Son, this including the obedience of the Son to the Father, at the Baptism of Jesus, the Heavenly Father said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." [Mt. 3:17] God is pleased with those who obey the teachings of the Lord Jesus, those who are of one mind.

When we speak of Christian unity, we speak of two things. We speak of (1) unity within the Holy Catholic Church and of (2) unity of the Christians of different denominations.

Unity within the Church can only be achieved when the faithful are obedient to their pastors, their Bishops and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. To be in unity with the Church means to accept and defend all the teachings of the Church without exception. It does not mean to take what one likes and to reject what one dislikes. Rejection leads to division and disharmony, such being the fruit of Satan who seeks to destroy the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that was instituted by Christ on earth.

Since Vatican II, in the spirit of Ecumenism, much human effort has been placed towards reuniting our separated brothers and sisters from different denominations so we may all be one in Christ. Were these efforts the fruits of Ecumenism?

In defining Ecumenism, the Catholic Church states, "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time." [UR 4 # 3.] Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us,... so that the world may know that you have sent me." [Jn 17:21; Heb 7:25.] The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit. [Cf. UR 1.]" (C.C.C. # 820)

To effectively help to bring about Christian unity, we are called to personally commit ourselves to walk in harmony with the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.

We are called to live holier lives according to the teachings of the Gospel.

We are called to have a change of heart through an openness of mind so we may pray in private and together for the unity of Christians as Jesus intended it to be.

We are called to learn about each other so we may have an true understanding of each other, where we are coming from, what we believe, and what we hope for.

We are called to ensure that our priests, our shepherds, have a full understanding of the ecumenical goal of the Church so they may lead the faithful accordingly.

We are encouraged to meet the Christians of different Churches and communities for the purpose of knowing and understanding one another. Our theologians are encouraged to meet with the different Churches and communities to know and understand the teachings of one another in the hope of determining if we are saying the same time but in different ways. If we are not saying the same thing, may both parties seek to understand what the other one is saying so the truth may be understood in the unity of the Spirit of Christ.

And finally, where services are provided to mankind, be it in teaching, nursing, helping the poor, we are called to work with one another.

In simple words, we are called to truly shine in the love of Jesus by acting as civilized human beings towards one another. The days of declaring war between Catholics and non-Catholics are finished. The days of refusing to talk to someone because he was a non-Catholic are finished. With such behaviours, there never was and never will be any hope of unity. By communicating with one another as true Christians and by educating ourselves regarding the beliefs of other Churches, we are opening the door for the Spirit of Christ to truly unite us in one mind according to His Divine Plan.

According to number 821 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Certain things are required in order to respond adequately to this call. There must be:

(1) "a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation; such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity; [Cf. UR 6.]"

(2) "a conversion of heart as the faithful 'try to live holier lives according to the Gospel'; [UR 7 # 3.] for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which causes divisions;"

(3) "prayer in common, because 'change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name 'spiritual ecumenism;'' [UR 8 # 1.]"

In accordance with the Canon Law, prayer in common excludes Catholics from partaking in the communion of non-Catholic faiths and vice-versa. Because non-Catholic faiths do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, they are to be excluded this Sacrament. And Catholics cannot receive communion in any non-Catholic faiths because they do not believe in the Real Presence. To do so, it would mean that the Catholic is denying his faith and he approves of the non-Catholic belief.

(4) "a fraternal knowledge of each other; [Cf. UR 9.]"

(5) "an ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests; [Cf. UR 10.]"

(6) "dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities; [Cf. UR 4; 9; 11.]"

(7) "collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind. [Cf. UR 12.]"

Once all these guidelines have been obeyed, the question remains, "Can we really become united one day when we consider the fact that our interpretations of the Gospel are so far apart?"

The Catholic Church realizes that the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends all human powers and gifts. This can only be miraculously achieved by the grace of the heavenly Father through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Most Holy Name of Jesus. For the unity of the Churches to be fulfilled, as individuals and Churches, in the love of Jesus, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to allow Him to manifest His transforming power.

"Concern for achieving unity 'involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike.' [UR 5.] But we must realize 'that this holy objective - the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ - transcends human powers and gifts.' That is why we place all our hope 'in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.' [UR 24 # 2.]" (C.C.C. # 822)

In the spirit of Ecumenism, are we to accept the beliefs of our separated brothers and sisters on equal terms as we accept the teachings of the Catholic Church? No, not all Churches are equal! The Second Vatican Council decreed that the fullness of the means of salvation can only be obtained in the Holy Catholic Church.

"The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it... This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. [LG 8 # 2.]" (C.C.C. # 816)

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God. [UR 3 # 5.]" This truth was reaffirmed on September 5, 2000 when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the document "Dominus Jesus."

In the spirit of Ecumenism, can we now attend the Breaking of the Bread at the services of our separated brothers and sisters and can they now participate in our celebrations of the Holy Mass by receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist? No. In the spirit of Ecumenism, our Catholic faith cannot be compromised. If a non-Catholic was to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist without having been properly prepared through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Confession, and if his belief rejects the continued and true Divine Presence of Jesus Christ in the Consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, then the reception of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist by a non-Catholic always has been and always shall be a Sacrilege.

In similarity, if a Catholic partakes in the breaking of the bread at the service of a non-Catholic Church while knowing that his separated brothers and sisters do not believe in the continued and true Divine Presence of Jesus during the Consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, by embracing their belief through participation, he is renouncing his Catholic belief.

The truth cannot be compromised! Either one's Catholic belief is the truth or the belief of the other Church is the truth. The faithful Catholic must accept one (their faith) and reject the other (non-Catholic beliefs). Many Catholics fail to perceive this limitation that exists in Ecumenism. In seeking to bring about a man-made unity, they compromise their faith and permit all forms of liturgical scandals to take place. They personally take it upon themselves to change the face of sound Catholic doctrines to accommodate and please their separated brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul states, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examines yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." [1 Cor. 11:27-9]

To receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we must be in a state of grace. To be in a state of grace, we must receive the Sacrament of Confession. If our separated brothers and sisters do not believe in the Sacrament of Confession, how can they receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in a state of grace? They cannot! Therefore, to approach the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in a state of sin, possibly even mortal sin, it is a sacrilege.

The spirit of Ecumenism, as explained above, does not include, and the Catholic Church forbids, the abandoning of one's Catholic faith. The unity that is longed for shall never be achieved by man's control or influence! As previously said, Christian unity transcends human powers and gifts. It can only be achieved through the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. The obligation of the Christian community is to open the door for the Holy Spirit to move. This can only be achieved through a sincere commitment to peace towards one another, through an openness to communication, knowledge and understanding of each other, and through a willingness to work alongside one another in the love of Jesus Christ.

Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say anything else about ecumenism or Christian unity? Yes. Numbers 817 to 819 (of the C.C.C.) should be read to gain a greater understanding of how the Catholic Church views the status of our separated brothers and sisters. They are not to be blamed for the sin of their forefathers that led to divisions, schisms, heresies and disputes. Some of the separated Churches possess many elements of sanctification and truth (the Holy Bible, life of grace, gifts of the Holy Spirit.) that find their origin in the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit uses the elements of sanctification and truth to lead the believers towards the fullness of grace and salvation that are found in the Holy Catholic Church.

"In fact, 'in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame.'[UR 3 # 1] The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism [Cf. CIC, can. 751.] - do not occur without human sin:" "Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers. [Origen, Hom. in Ezech. 9, 1: PG 13, 732.]" (C.C.C. # 817)

"However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers... All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. [UR 3 # 1.]" (C.C.C. # 818)

"Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" [LG 8 # 2.] are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: 'the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.' [UR 3 # 2; cf. LG 15.] Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, [Cf. UR 3.] and are in themselves calls to 'Catholic unity.' [Cf. LG 8.]" (C.C.C. # 819)

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this week, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will bless us with a true understanding of Christian Unity and Ecumenism so we may prepare ourselves for the week of Christian Unity that will begin next Sunday.

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