Bottom line: Disunity, criticism and complaining can destroy faith, but unity - working for a common vision - can lead others to faith.
I begin this Sunday by wishing all our moms a Happy Mothers Day. I am offering this Mass for our mothers, living or deceased. The readings address a theme dear to the hearts of moms: How to avoid complaining and disunity - and how to achieve a unity that leads to faith.
On this Sixth Sunday of Easter, we have a choice: Since we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord next Sunday, we have the option of using the Seventh Sunday readings today. In the Gospel we hear 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 - our oneness - draws people to faith. I'd like to illustrate this, first with a negative example -how disunity can weaken, even destroy faith. Then I will give a positive example - how our unity can lead other to faith.
Here is an example of how disunity weakens faith: In a certain parish a controversy broke out - of all things - over what color to paint a room. Some wanted a bright, lively color. Other preferred a more subdued, mellow color. This innocent controversy soon became heated. They began labeling each other. The "brights" were characterized as elitists, the "mellows" as sticks-in-the-mud. Pretty soon, some became convinced that the parish's future 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, their "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 - to 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 resulted in 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; the next day the priest would be out of commission. The priest wasn't me, by the way.:) Anyway, the parishioners had to station a cordon around the rectory on Saturday night to make sure they would have Mass on Sunday morning. The woman's husband at first made fun of all this, but little by little he became impressed by the people's unity, that the Mass meant so much to them. Eventually, the scoffing husband became a Catholic. The parishioners' unity, their common vision led him to faith.
So that is the message for this Sunday: For sure, disagreements and controversies are inevitable, but much depends on how we handle 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. The boys, who once were friendly to the priest, began to keep their distance. They even started making comments 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:
Mother's Day Homilies:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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