Thursday, May 20, 2010


Scripture readings at Mass yesterday (Wednesday of the 7th Week of Easter) included the final part of Paul’s farewell speech on the island of Miletus (Acts 20) and a middle portion of Jesus’ priestly prayer for unity (John 17). The two contained over-arching themes that really work well for telling us things about ourselves as Christians of varying denominations.

Paul insists there will be “savage wolves” to attack the Church [from outside], and also from within “men…perverting the truth” in order to lead others into schism. It is a view that is repeated, in its own way, in the Fourth Gospel and letters of John: it is a view, “retrojected,” if you like, into Apostolic times, of the experience of the post-Apostolic Church communities.

Why should these things happen? Jesus gives us the answer: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons [and Satan’s kingdom with it], then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). And Satan won’t go down without a fight. Attacks and infiltrations are what we must expect, and we should be utterly vigilant against both. Our situation today shows that we have not been vigilant enough with regard to infiltrations, and this means not only the “faith” issues explicitly referred to by Paul, but also the “morals” issues of what we do in our lives that is contradictory to the Gospel we preach.

We are a divided body, and we are divided bodies. As was emphasized several times at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (a conference I attended in April), there are splits within denominations that are at least as serious as those between denominations, especially with regard to views of what is proper in the realm of sexuality.

Yet Jesus prays that we would be united in Him as He is in the Father. We hear and recognize the call, but we are not always ready to listen and follow. Our various denominations all need the refiner’s fire to purify us; we need tremendous individual and collective repentance; we need to be open to the re-forming in His image that the Holy Spirit’s fire can bring. The Latin phrase is Ecclesia semper reformanda: the Church, ever in need of reform. This doesn’t mean us only in the past and others now—it means us all, always. Otherwise, as Gamaliel told the Sanhedrin, we might even find ourselves fighting against God (Acts 5:39)

Here is a good focus for the final days of the “Novena to Pentecost”—to quote a contemporary hymn, “Let the fire fall”/”Come, Holy Spirit”/“Come, Lord Jesus.”

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