Bottom line: While disunity and complaining can destroy faith; unity, working for a common vision, can lead others to faith.
The Gospel records this prayer of Jesus: "Holy Father...may they all be one,as you, Father are in me and I in you, that the world may believe you sent me."
"May they be one...that the world may believe." Our unity, oneness, draws people to faith. I'd like to illustrate this, first in a negative way, then in a positive way.
Unity brings people to faith; disunity drives them away. I heard about a parish where a controversy broke out over - of all things - what color to repaint a room. Some wanted a bright, lively color. Other preferred a more subdued, mellow color. This innocent controversy soon became heated. They began labelling each other. The "brights" were characterized as elitists, the "mellows" as sticks-in-the-mud. Pretty soon, people concluded that the future of the parish depended on the outcome of the controversy. Parents could not avoid discussing the matter in their homes and at their dinner tables. They thought their children would appreciate their concern, the "passion," but it had a different effect. What the children heard was not "passion," but anger. They heard their parents criticizing other parishioners - and the parish priest. All in all, it weakened the faith of children, young people and other adults.*
Of course, controversies are inevitable. They have always been part of Church life - even in New Testament times. God can use controversy to purify his Church and to clarify the faith. But the devil can also use controversy to create enmity, factions and bitterness - that destroy faith.** For that reason, Jesus prayed, "Holy Father...may they all be one,as you, Father are in me and I in you, that the world may believe you sent me."
Let me give an example of how unity can lead to faith. In this case it led to a remarkable conversion. It happened that in a country parish, one of the parishioners very much desired the conversion of her husband. But he scoffed at the faith, especially at the priest assigned to the parish. The priest had a problem with drinking and the people never knew when he would disappear for an all night binge, causing him to be out of commission the next day. The priest wasn't be me, by the way.:) Anyway, the parishioners actually had to station a cordon around the rectory on Saturday night to make sure they would have Sunday Mass. The woman's husband at first made fun of all this, but little by little he became impressed by the people's unity and faith, that the Mass meant so much to them. Eventually, he became a Catholic. The parishioners' unity, their common vision led that man to faith.
We have to work hard for unity, especially today. We live in polarized society; instead of having an honest discussion, people tend to mock those with different viewpoints. That mentality can effect us in the Church and in our parishes. It takes work to communicate and develop a common vision. I received a good testimony this week at the National Day of Prayer here in Monroe. After the service one of the state representatives told me that he has to travel alone quite a bit. He used to listen to talk radio, but now he listens to Sacred Heart Radio, AM 1050. He is not a Catholic, but he shared how it uplifts him. You and I have great resources today: Catholic radio, CD's, magazines and newspapers (like the Register). By spending time learning about our faith, we can develop that common vision, the unity essential to bringing other to faith.
So that is the message for this Sunday: For sure, disagreements and controversies are inevitable, but much depends on how we approach them. Disunity, criticism and complaining can destroy faith, but unity - working for a common vision - can lead others to faith. "May they be one...that the world may believe."
*To give another example: Once a young couple had two teenage boys. More than anything else, they wanted their sons to have faith in God, to follow Jesus and to participate in the Church. This couple was deeply involved in their parish, but one day they had a difference of opinion with the pastor. As sometimes happens, a difference of opinion can escalate and we can start thinking everything hinges on it. It became quite emotional and the couple couldn't help talking about it at the dinner table. They thought that their sons would appreciate their "passion." Unfortunately, the boys didn't understand the whole issue. All they knew was that their parents were angry - and it made them feel miserable. They boys, who once were friendly to priest, began to keep their distance. Eventually, they even started saying things in that priest's hearing. The parents' disunity with the pastor wound up alienating their children from the faith.
**Some might say, "If I don't complain, nothing will ever change." Maybe so, but there are a couple of things to consider: If I stop complaining, that's already a change. A big one because it makes life better for people around me. But more to the point is what a person does with their complaint. Bring it first to the Lord in prayer and ask him what to do with the complaint. If it seems worthwhile, the complaint should be taken to someone who can do something about it. To complain in front of those with those can do nothing about it, destroys faith.
This is my first homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, but here are homilies for those using Sixth Sunday readings:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
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