17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of loaves, from which we have heard today, following St. John’s Gospel, leads into Jesus’ ‘Bread of Life’ discourse, from which we will hear in the Sundays ahead. The miracle is meant to awaken the hunger of the people for something more than material bread. In the Sundays to come I will have ample opportunity to speak of that ‘something more’, so today I want to turn my attention to the 2nd reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
St. Paul speaks to us of unity and peace: strive to persevere unity of spirit through the bond of peace.
Today, we prize unity and hate division. We ask, “Why can’t we all just get along?” As though ‘getting along’ were something easy, that did not require the continuous effort of ‘striving’, just as husband and wife must spend their whole life striving to ‘get along’ and grow in love.
We have also become accustomed to thinking that religious differences are the fundamental source of disunity. Perhaps we think that some vague, generic, ‘we all believe in the same God’ is needed to unite us, but that the details are of little importance.
In this climate of ‘peace at any price’ the greatest sins are disagreement, argument, offending others, and intolerance.
None of this, however, is Christian; none of this conforms to the word of God; indeed, the slogans of peace and unity often mask agendas of control and manipulation.
For example slogans of peace and unity have contributed greatly to a clerical culture that covered up the sins and crimes of priests, bishops, and cardinals; the homosexual network in the hierarchy used the mask of peace and unity to manipulate others and to hide their own activity.
In the Act of the Apostles there is a curious incident in which St. Paul, in the face of accusers, united against him, defends himself by intentionally provoking dissension among his accusers.
St. Thomas Aquinas took note of this incident when he wrote about the sin of discord or disunity. The example of St. Paul presents a problem because if discord is a sin, then St. Paul seems to have committed a sin by provoking discord among his adversaries. St. Thomas Aquinas, defending St. Paul, comments: “Just as a man’s will that adheres to God is a right rule, to disaccord with which is a sin, so too a man’s will that is opposed to God is a perverse rule, to disaccord with which is good. Hence to cause a discord, whereby a good concord resulting from charity is destroyed, is a grave sin … On the other hand, to arouse a discord whereby an evil concord (i.e. concord in an evil will) is destroyed, is praiseworthy. In this way Paul was to be commended for sowing discord among those who had an evil concord.” (ST IIa IIae, Q 37a1 ad 2)
In other words, not all unity and peace, and concord and agreement are good, but only that unity among men that is rooted in their adherence to and agreement with God. It is actually a good thing to manifest the false unity and peace that is opposed to God.
That means that there is no way to true unity apart from the thorny topic of right religion, the right way to approach God and worship him. The details actually matter. Wrong ideas about religion, heresies, can be as spiritually destructive as a spark in the dry wheat fields. The heretic is a spiritual arsonist and many wildfires are raging in the Church today.
Turning then to today’s reading: true humility does not bow before falsehood, especially falsehood in regard to God; true gentleness does not yield to falsehood, especially falsehood in regard to God; true patience does not keep silent in the face of falsehood, especially falsehood in regard to God. When it comes to a person’s own honor and reputation, he can be humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with the offenses committed by others, for the sake of peace and unity. When it comes to the honor and glory of God, we are obliged to stand up and bear witness to the truth. Jesus Christ said, Whoever acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace, but the sword. (Mt 10:32-34)
In my last homily before I went on vacation I spoke about the contemporary crisis of faith to which Blessed Pope Paul VI bore witness. Underlying that crisis of faith is the strange phenomenon of Catholic clergy and laity growing ashamed of Christ and his Church; we have been afraid to speak up for fear of offending, for fear of being judged ‘intolerant’ or ‘divisive’. When we grow silent, we lose our own voice; when we lose our own voice we begin adapting to and adopting the language that is thrust upon us by the world; when we adopt the language of the world, then we soon begin thinking like the world.
Let me bear witness to this: back in the 1970s, when I was an unbaptized teenager without any religion in the secular world, I can remember various revolutionary activists declaring that it was necessary to change the language, to change the way people speak, in order to change the way people think. They have achieved enormous success. Notice that this changing of the language was not a work of persuasion, but a work of propaganda, indeed a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) work of violence, not physical violence but moral bullying. In face of this evil propaganda, the Shepherds of the Church have often been silent.
In the wake of the ongoing revelations of the crimes and corruption of Archbishop McCarrick, who has now been stripped of the dignity of the office of Cardinal, the typical response is the proposal of bureaucratic solutions, making use of the language of the world. There is has been little in the way of a convincing expression of horror at the sacrilege and blasphemy that has taken place. No outrage because what has been done is so utterly contrary to the Gospel, the holiness of the priesthood, and the holiness of the Church.
Instead, if we strive to preserve (or recover) the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace, then we must hold fast to those true principles of unity and peace set forth by St. Paul. One body and one Spirit, as you were called to the one hope of your call. The one body is the body of Christ, the Church, animated by the one Holy Spirit, who directs the Church in this world along the pilgrim path of one single hope in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead.
Alter any one element in this eco-system of supernatural life and the whole falls apart. The Church without the Holy Spirit becomes no more than a human bureaucratic structure; yet the Holy Spirit does not act in the world, except through his chosen instrument, the Church as the body of Christ. Nor does the Holy Spirit guide and animate the Church for any worldly purpose, but directs the Church to the hope of eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. When the faithful lose the horizon of eternity, hope is falsified, and the life of the Church falls into disorder. In the 2nd century, St. Ireneaus of Lyon taught that where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit and where the Holy Spirit there is the Church. We could add, where the Holy Spirit and the Church are, there is the hope in eternal life and the resurrection of the body.
Next, we have: one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The hope that is born of the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church cannot be separated from the profession of one faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, who rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, who gives himself to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. The truth of the faith that we profess guarantees our relationship with the one Lord Jesus Christ, who bestows the gift of his Holy Spirit upon his body, the Church, and through the Holy Spirit rules and guides his Church. Further, all of this is inseparable from the sacrament of baptism, through which we enter into the Church, receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, and come to share in the life of Jesus Christ; this life of grace is the strengthened, sustained, and nourished through the other sacraments.
All of this comes from the one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:16) These gifts come to us through the Son and in the Holy Spirit so that Church appears as ‘a people, formed as one by the unity of the Holy Trinity, made the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Preface VIII of the Sundays in Ordinary Time)
This is the bond of peace that defines true humility, gentleness, and patience among those united by this bond.
The world presents us with a false, abstract, ideology of peace. The world tells us that religion is the source of division and conflict and that to achieve peace we must set aside religious differences and focus on what is truly important, what truly unites us as human beings. What is offered in the place of the bond of peace in the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ? Technological progress? The freedom to do as we please, even to pursue unbridled pleasure? The hope of economic prosperity? Making the world a better place, a place where justice and equality prevail? All of this has proved to be an illusion. Indeed, we do not even know anymore what it means to be human.
The Second Vatican Council taught that the Church “is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.” (LG 1) If we really take that seriously it means that there can be no true unity and peace apart from the very concrete, visible reality of the one holy, Roman, catholic, and apostolic Church. There can be no true unity apart from real communion in the Body of Christ given us in the Holy Eucharist.
That also means there can be no true unity and peace without the hope of eternal life and the resurrection, for man does not live on bread alone, man is made for something greater than this passing world. The Church must first and foremost bear witness to the greater reality of God, who alone is capable of satisfying the longing of the human heart.