Who Do You Follow?
Homily for January 22, 2017 3rd Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
500 Years ago this year, in 1517, the Reverend Martin Luther published his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” more commonly known as “The 95 Theses”. Most historians consider this the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. They were most likely not NAILED to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church as an act of radical defiance, but were hung on the door of the church to encourage debate on what Luther considered abuses in indulgences and related issues within the Church. In fact, much of what he included were abuses within the Church associated with indulgences and which were already being discussed as problems within the Church hierarchy. Unfortunately, some of the issues were divisive and, after several attempts at reconciliation, when Luther refused to recant his position on these issues, in 1521 he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X. The subsequent division and scandal caused to the Church has continued ever since.
But it does not have to be so.
In John’s Gospel, chapter 17, verses 20 to 21, Jesus prays, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me.” One in God. One in Life. One in Faith.
This week, from January 18th through the 25th, we celebrate the “International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”. During this week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (the USCCB) asks that all Catholics join with those of other Christian denominations to pray for Christian Unity. This “week of prayer for unity” isn’t anything new, but is part of a effort that is over 100 years old, when the first Octave of Prayer was celebrated in 1908. Pope Benedict the 15th extended its observance to the universal Church in 1916. It has been celebrated during this week in January ever since.
In 1964, the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio was proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council, which included in its opening remarks that “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only; division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalises the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel”. “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Sacred Ecumenical Second Vatican Council.”
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity continues to work with representatives of the World Council of Churches and other Christian communities to resolve our differences so that we all may be one in the eyes of God. This week of prayer and ecumenical activities are meant to help heal the divisions which keep us apart.
But overcoming division isn’t easy. We are a very competitive people, whether it be in sports, politics or faith. And while competition in itself isn’t bad, for it helps us strive to be better than we are; we only have to look around us to see how we allow our competitive nature to become destructive: we use antagonistic or insulting language to put others down; we exercise prejudicial judgment against some and preferential treatment for others; we even justify violence as a statement against those we disagree with. Just look at the recent news of the protests and riots this last week.
It must stop.
In his letter to the Corinthians today, St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians over the divisions in their fledgling community. He points out to them that they are losing their focus on the only one they were to follow – Christ. Not Peter; not Apollos;,not even Paul himself. No matter who they “liked” or “disliked”, they had only one purpose – to witness to Christ, to follow the command of Christ to Love God and to Love their Neighbor. The same is true for us today - it isn't our political leaders, our sports favorites, or even our friends that we are called to follow, but Christ.
Where are we as a community, as Christians? Are we divisive, finding fault with those we disagree with? We're called to remain firm and strong in our faith and not compromise our values, but can we do so without hatred? Can we say that we love each other, and treat each other with respect, even if we disagree with them? Or do we harbor hatred in our hearts for those that we disagree with – whether it be because of their faith, their politics, or even their sports affiliation? (OK, maybe we don’t HATE them because of their favorite teams.)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him. They leave everything behind to follow Him. We’re called to do the same thing – leave all our hatred and animosity behind and follow Him. We are called to be one in Christ.
I follow Christ. I belong to Him.
Who do you belong to?