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Father Michael

Pastor's Letter 20200517 - 17 May 2020 - Diversity in Unity

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May 17th, 2020

Sixth Sunday in Easter

A Message from Father Michael

Today’s Theme:  “Diversity in Unity”

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"I will send another advocate: The Holy Spirit"

Scripture Note

 Jesus’ disciples knew their mission was to preach the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19.)  WhenPhilip took the “Good News” to Samaria, the apostles in Jerusalem heard about this, and were rather surprised.  Jews and Samaritans did not socialize (John 4:9!)  We notice similar surprise when the first Roman citizen joined the Church (Acts 10:45.)  Indeed, by going beyond the boundaries of traditional Judaism, Philip took a daring and creative step!  From that moment until today, the Church has had the task to accept diversityin its bosom and guard unity in the Spirit. The apostles went to Samaria to impose hands on the converted Samaritans as a seal of approval.  And they received the Holy Spirit,”(Acts 8:5-8.14-17.)  Similarly, we should accept this same situation in the Church of our time and culture.  Paul wrote: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4.) 

 Our modern Church includes a mélange of people—some called “charismatics;” floating parishes (who meet in varying locales;) along with those who are conservative and also liberal in their thinking—comprised of believers of all ages.   Some are quite emotionally involved while others (more “cerebral” members,) are also members of one congregation.  Irrespective of the composition, we must “bear with one another,” taking heart that the same Spirit breathes upon everyone under the guidance of consecrated bishops.  Always remember Jesus words: “Wherever two or three gather in My Name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20.) We are one people, even though we take different paths to reach our heavenly reward for all eternity.

 Love and Obedience

 In today’s Gospel passage (John 14:15-21,) we heard part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, during the Last supper.  Many things He said were naturally directed toward “essentials” for the future, how He wanted His disciples to live after He was gone.  One thing of import that He said was: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”  He wasn’t talking about a specific “set of directives,” but, rather, about following His “way of life”—the essentials of Christian discipleship. Clearly, however, we must not keep His commandments so that He will love us, but because He loves us. During that same Last Supper, He said: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  It was He Who first loved the apostles, and did so, unconditionally.

 The greatest need each of us has is for real, unconditional love.  It is difficult for those with little or no faith to believe this is the way that God loves us.  Oftentimes we believe He loves us only if we are “good.”  But our very existence is a sign that God loves us unconditionally.  That is the Good News, for which our response is to try to return that love. 

 Jesus knew the Father loves Him, and He responded by loving the Father.  (As St. Augustine asserted when he comprised the dogma of the Holy Trinity: That very love of the Father, and the Father for the Son, is embodied in the person of the Holy Spirit.)  Jesus’ love for the Father (and, in turn, for every one of us,) eventually cost Him his life!  (Only through His perfect sacrifice could atonement for sins be obtained.)  Through our obedience we are to show our love for Jesus, which means listening to His Word and putting it into practice.  To love is to obey, and to obey is to love. Those who proclaim their love for Jesus in words but deny Him by their deeds or their way of life are not living as true disciples.  We are known to others by our acts, not only what we say with our words.  Living as disciples is not an easy mission—it never was. But for that reason, Jesus has given us the assistance of the Holy Spirit—that “God within us,” which is our immortal soul—for comfort in times of sorrow, enlightenment in times of darkness and bravery and strength in times of weakness.

 The word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit is “Advocate”—a legal term we use for one who supports a defendant in a trial.  We can expected to suffer as Jesus’ disciples, but as we heard in Today’s Second Reading: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-18)  We gather strength, knowing our cause is right, from the example of Christ, Who, though innocent, suffered and died for our sins. 

In essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty, in all things, Charity” 

This phrase, which has been attributed to early theologians such as Augustine and others, has found great favor among many Christian writers. It serves us well as a motto for The Old Catholic Church, and might be recommended for every Christian denomination today.

 Unity

United by faith in Christ we are thereby united to one another in the Church, the body of Christ, as a “communion of saints.” It is a union created by Christ for all who have been baptized by one Spirit into His body, the Church. But the manifestation of our unity is not always apparent. Christians sometimes display ugly divisions between one another, With deep longing our Lord prayed for our unity, knowing that our own blessing rests on it, along with the credibility of the church’s witness for Christ.

 Liberty

Tensions arising from diversity of belief and practice among Christians (apparent even in the pages of the New Testament,) remain with us today. There was apparently a thriving “vegetarian” faction within the Church at Rome (Romans 14:2-5,)  as well asa difference among them about whether certain days were to be honored.  Paul tells us, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” Such people to be welcomed, says Paul, and not for the purpose of quarreling with him over his views. Love for such a person, weak in faith though he is, must continue.  In that love, we must extend liberty to each person to hold fast to his own conscience on what Christ has commanded, whether they are “vegetarians,” or if they continue to honor the Jewish feast days. 

After two thousand years of Church history, Christians are still divided on doctrinal issues, even the very signs of our unity in Christ—Baptism—and the Lord’s Supper (the the corporeal presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.) These also must admitted to the Lord’s table. In order to be one in Christ and demonstrate the communion of saints, it would seem that either we must ignore our doctrinal differences and treat them as inconsequential, or we must remain permanently divided and in opposition to one another until Christ returns. Is there not a more excellent way?

 Charity

Love for Christ must include a love for His truth, and so we can never treat as inconsequential anything that Christ has commanded. Only those who abide in Jesus’ word are truly His disciples, and they are to be taught to obey all that He has commanded.  The route that we might call “doctrinal minimalism” is not open to us. We cannot simply reduce the number of doctrines to be taught and believed to some we can all accept as important and ignore the rest. Neither can we sequester ourselves in very small groups with maximal agreement on doctrine and morals, and then separate from others and refuse to acknowledge as Christians those who do not embrace all our distinctions. The multiplication of small groups who pride themselves on purity but who denounce and despise those who fall short does nothing to express the truth of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” for which Christ died. The love we must have for all of Christ’s disciples has no expression in this path. 

 Our unity is found in the Spirit of Christ baptizing us into His body, the Church.  Our expression of that unity must therefore be a unity of the truth “as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21.) Our unity with Jesus does not wait until perfection is achieved. Salvation comes to us by faith in Christ, so there must be a defining core of truth, sufficient to unite us to Christ even if not yet complete in every detail. Defining this core precisely might prove to be as difficult as living out the whole truth faithfully, but it will surely include that God, the Creator of heaven and earth against Whom we have all sinned, was “in Christ, reconciling to Himself all who believe in Him, not counting their sins against them, but forgiving them through the redemption that is found in the sinless life,” calling for obedience to Christ as Lord under the authority of His Word in the Holy Scriptures. Where Christ is truly preached, there is the Gospel; and where the Gospel is truly believed, there is the church.

 The Church that is in Jesus is diverse, and diversity among Christians is due to our lack of conformity to Christ. He has chosen to sanctify us “gradually” in this world. As we progress in sanctification, variations in both doctrine and practice will exist.  There will always be a need for those who are united in Christ to live in love with one another while dealing with differences, although sometimes these differences result in the formation of different churches and denominations.   In order to maintain a good conscience toward God, such divisions need not be a defeat of unity among us, so long as we do not permit them to destroy our love and welcome for one another. (Some divisions are of practical necessity anyway, for not all Christians in the world can meet together at the same time in the same place.)  Many distinct gatherings of Christians spread throughout the world can actually serve the purposes of God, by sprinkling us among the lost to “shine the light of Christ,” encouraging us to be faithful to what we believe. But if we allow our divisions to become breaches of love and occasions for pride and rivalry, then we will have failed in our calling, and our witness for Christ will be marred.

The saying, In essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty, in all things, Charity,” strikes the right balance, and calls for unity on the essential things (the core of truth in our union with Christ.) In non-essentials (not “unimportant,” but those things that if lacking do not prevent our union with Christ,) it calls for liberty so that all might follow their consciences under the Word and Spirit.  In all things, however, there must be love (“charity,” from the Latin caritas, or “love,”) which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

May God Richly Bless You!

 

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”   (Mahatma Gandhi)

To watch a video of today's Mass, Click here: https://youtu.be/s0QzKMVBWE4

Cast Your Cares on the Lord.docx

Cast Your Cares on the Lord.mp3

 

Edited by Father Michael

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