This week is Catholic schools week. So let's applaud our teachers and staff who educate our 215 youngsters for life, pursuing excellence in academics and instilling virtue in character. Thank you for all you do on behalf of our children.
The word of God takes us back to the fifth century before Jesus, to a Jewish religious leader named Ezra. It was a time of new beginnings for the Jews who returned to the ruins of Jerusalem. They were rebuilding their lives, much like many of our forebears did in the aftermath of the 1840s Irish potato famine, the 1870s German kulturkampf, or World War II.
Ezra gathered the people together in a liturgical assembly to renew the covenant God had made with them centuries before—a covenant summed up in a moving phrase: “You are my people; and I am your God.” The people who heard Ezra cried out, “Amen. Amen” -- So be it. They will not only be hearers of God’s word but doers of that word as well.
This renewal challenges us to renew our baptismal promises: to live an other-centered life with God and for others.
Paul, in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth in Greece, addressed all kinds of problems: doctrinal squabbles, moral misconduct, personality problems, and cliques each with its own hero. Paul used the metaphor of the human body to describe how the different parts—the eye, the ear, the voice, the hands, the feet—have different functions, yet they all work for the good of the whole body.
St. Paul championed unity within diversity. We are one family, brothers and sisters to one another and sons and daughters of God our Father. God abides in us, and we abide in God within a grace-filled community, made up of saints and sinners.
And how appropriate that we, in the week of prayer for Christian unity (January 15-25), pray, like Paul centuries ago, that the Spirit will make all Christians one, for together we profess that there is only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus began his public ministry, his mission. He went back to his hometown of Nazareth in the region of Galilee and walked into the local synagogue on the Sabbath, and from the parchment of scripture—in particular, the book of the prophet Isaiah—he read from the magnificent passage about the jubilee year:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he has sent me to bring glad tidings ….”
Concluding, Jesus rolled up the scroll and said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was a bold and shocking statement for the audience. In a real sense, this was the “inaugural speech” of Jesus, proclaiming freedom from what enslaves us, vision from what blinds us, and healing from what breaks relationships. Jesus then set about giving hope to those who had lost hope, purpose in life to those who had found little or no meaning in life. Yes, Jesus challenges us to live an other-centered life, to seek first the kingdom of God. This is the program Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry.
Back to the call for unity within diversity: Jesus prayed that his disciples “may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you.” That's why we have a week of prayer for Christian unity.
But we, 2.5 billion Christians, are a divided Christianity. A couple of years ago we marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's clarion call for reform in the Church. Luther initially argued for reform, not division. But his call spread like a contagion and launched Protestant Christianity.
Today we have about 1.3 billion Catholics; 900 million Protestants; and 300 million Orthodox. And until Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII in 1958, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants generally emphasized what divided them.
Pope John XXIII created a transformation. He moved Christians from diatribe to dialog with his affable, friendly and lovable personality. And his sense of humor. For example, a reporter asked the Pope: how many people work in the Vatican? “About half,” replied the pontiff.
Good Pope John realized that before people can discuss what divides them, they have to get to know one another. This search for unity reached a milestone among Catholics with the 1964 promulgation of the “Decree on Ecumenism” which encourages conversations with our separated brothers and sisters about what unites and what divides us and how we can cooperate, especially in humanitarian projects.
Catholics are linked with mainstream Christian churches in many ways: through a common creed, baptism, the Bible and many justice and peace issues.
But we're still divided on key issues. Together we have to find ways beyond what divides us to what unites us.
And so, we pray that we might all be one: open to conversations with other Christian traditions and at the same time faithful to our own Catholic tradition.
We are a worldwide community of believers, multinational, multicolored, that remembers Jesus, a community of disciples that hears God speak to us in the liturgy of the Word and in the liturgy of the Eucharist presences the Risen Christ sacramentally and mystically in the bread and wine. The Risen Christ is really and truly among us.
And yes, we take a stand on peace and justice. The worldwide Catholic community sponsors and staffs shelters, hospices, soup kitchens, literacy programs, day-care centers, hospitals and schools throughout the world. Hundreds of Catholic Relief and Refugee agencies attempt to meet the basic needs of the poor.
But alas we are also a community with tensions. Why is that so? Because we are human, saints as well as sinners. Some people are “messy” and make a “mess” out of things and so, like many other things in life, we have to live and muddle through as best we can.
As we pray for Christian unity, let us give thanks to God for the faith community to which we belong: a community that calls us to a life with God here and now, and to an indescribable heavenly life where we shall be like God, and see God as God really is. Amen.