Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ut Unum Sint, That They be One

7 Easter C #61

Acts 7, 55-60
Ps 97
Rv 22, 12-14. 16-17, 20
Jn 17, 20-26

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
May 16, 2010

Deacon Tom Cornell

This Gospel reading makes me think of a young man I met not long ago, a very bright guy. He studies comparative literature at NYU. He doesn’t have a church or a religion. But he's interested, he said, even attracted. He told me that he's reading the New Testament, and that in all the world literature he had read, he never came across a figure as attractive or compelling as Jesus of Nazareth. Was Jesus really the Son of God as he read in Mark’s Gospel? Was he the Messiah the Jews expected in Matthew and Luke? Was he the Logos, the eternal Word of God who took flesh and lived among us as in John?

Was Jesus the Savior of the World as Christians claim? Did he really give us the Way to salvation, the Way to keep us from blowing ourselves up when he said from the Cross “Father forgive them?” And when he taught his disciples to pray, "forgive as we forgive." The Deacon Stephen echoed his words as he was stoned to death in our first reading, "Do not hold this sin against them." Did Jesus really take away our sins so that one day we might understand what this whole thing on earth is about, when we are with God in Heaven? It would be nice to think so, he said. Well, why didn’t he just come to our church and find out?

“You Catholics say you know what Jesus really taught, that yours is the true church, the church he founded. But the Episcopalians across the street, they say they the same thing, and the Bible Church up the hill says the same thing, and the Presbyterians over there, and the Methodists up in Milton and the Quakers over in Clintondale…. See what I mean? How can I believe any of you Christians if you can’t believe each other?” Pray for him.

You have to admit, he has a point. He's missing another point though, and that is, at a deep level, we are in fact one. There is really only one church of Jesus Christ for, as Paul has it, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all” (Eph 4,5).

God is a mystery, the deepest mystery. God can not be defined because to define means to put an end, a boundary to something, de fine, and you can’t do that to God. God is infinite. Christ is the sacrament of God, another mystery because we can not define him either. We can say “true man and true God” but we can’t really exhaust what that means! The church is the sacrament of Christ, another mystery. So you see you can’t really put a boundary on the church either. Only God knows who is in and who is out. It’s quite conceivable that some who say, “Lord, Lord!” might not be real Christians at all, and it’s quite conceivable too that some we would never expect are true seekers of Truth and Love and doers besides and so beloved of Christ and his own.

Today we heard how Jesus prayed to the Father that his disciples be one so that the world might believe in him, that the Father sent him: “That they be one.” He says it three times. One as Jesus and the Father are one. So it will be because it is God’s will. When and how Christian unity will be achieved we can not know. But we do know this: we have a part to play in it, every one of us. How? By letting go of any feelings of resentment we might have against fellow Christians in other churches or denominations, by letting go of any feelings of hurt for wrongs committed against us, by forgiving. My Irish ancestors, you may know, had a beef with the English. That war lasted eight hundred years, but it’s over now. We don’t have to forget, we can’t forget, but we can and we must forgive.

Let go of any feeling of pride or superiority or envy or resentment and admit our failings and our sins against each other and seek forgiveness of God and of each other, brothers and sisters in Christ. We killed each other in wars of religion! Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction in terms? “A war of religion!” Thank God we are past all that. We are living in a new age, an oecumenical age. Time to love.

I spoke to a group of Protestant young people in their high school not long ago, Anabaptists. My heart had to go out to them because their hearts were so warm with the love of God and of Jesus, and for us Catholic too in our present suffering. I could feel it. How can we not love them? One of the young men asked me, “Tom, why isn’t the Catholic Church a peace church, like us or the Quakers? We have the same Gospel!”

“Timothy,” I said to him, “we owe your people, the Anabaptists, a debt. We Catholics had all but forgotten Christian nonviolence when you people kept it alive for us. We’re taking it back into the mainstream of our own Tradition. Because of your help, your faithfulness, the Catholic Church is well on its way to becoming a peace church.” By that I mean we now have peace at the top of our social agenda, the renunciation of war and the causes of war. We defend men and women who refuse to participate in war for reasons of conscience. We not only defend them but hold them up as examples of genuine Christian discipleship. That is a big step forward, even if all our people don’t know it yet.

What can we do to promote Christian unity? We can pray together, pray the Scriptures together, study together, work together as we work here at Saint Mary’s with the Presbyterians in our food bank, as Sister Mary and the others work in Newburgh Ministries for the poor; work at every level in every way we can for peace and justice in this world, to put an end to war and the causes of war, an end to hunger, an end to ethnic, racial and religious hatred.

For this we need all the strength and nourishment we can get from our Scriptures and the sacraments. We can not share the Eucharist together with non-Catholics yet, except under exceptional circumstances because the Eucharist is the ultimate sign of unity, and if we share Holy Communion prematurely we will not hunger for a common table, and that is what we must do! Hunger for it, thirst for it! It is God’s will!

When the church of Jesus Christ is the church God wills it to be, it will be truly Catholic, truly Orthodox, truly Evangelical and truly Reformed. We will be one, and the world will come to believe. Finally they will see Jesus coming on the clouds with the angels and saints, with Moses and The Baal Shem Tov and Gautama Buddha and Gandhi and the Mahdi, with Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Frank and Maisie and The B to judge the living and the dead. “I was hungry and you fed me!” Come, Lord Jesus! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i wondered to the catholic worker house today. a man outside who i couldn't decided whether he was homeless or not dropped your name. i'm searching for something that i've already found. but anyway enough of all this. my name is jacob cammack and i'm 29 and fresh to new york city. i don't wanna wait tables anymore. i wanna help. now you see my agenda namely help me to help. i like this dorothy day a lot. seems like my kind of catholism. headed back tomorrow morning to volunteer. not exactly sure why i contacted you, but that is not true because i know exactly why i contacted you i'm just not being very clear in this letter to you because i'm not used to believing in action. more and more i see it must be this way.