Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unity, Obedience, and Keeping Covenant

In the First Reading for today (31st Sunday of Ordinary Time), we read:
A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers?
(Mal 1: 14b – 2:2b, 8-10)

So much can be said for this passage of Sacred Scripture, but verse 10 (see italics above) particularly struck me today. The prophet Malachi says that Israel had profaned the ancient covenant by being faithless with each other, and in doing so they destroyed the unity of being one people under God, who is the One Father of His people.
These words are just as true of Christianity today, which is terribly fractured and disunified. Rather than submitting to the authority of the Holy Church that our Lord Jesus founded upon the Rock of St. Peter, Christians around the world have broken faith with each other by doing (and believing) what is right in their own eyes.
Some of the clearest evidences of this are things like the Great Schism of 1054; and to a greater degree, the 16th century Protestant Reformation in which the Protestant Reformers, without any appointment by the Lord Jesus, rejected Christ’s Church and instead set themselves up as the authoritative leaders of Christianity.
The outworking of these sad historical realities is that Christians remain extremely divided. For example, Protestant denominations currently number in the tens of thousands. And as each individual Christian (or group of Christians) decides what is right in their own eyes, Christianity continues to splinter into more and more fractious denominations.
As Catholics, we rightly rejoice in the fact that we are part of the One Holy Church instituted by Christ. But before we get too arrogant about this, we would do well to acknowledge that the problem of insubordination exists within our own ranks too (albeit not to the same degree of schism). There are many Catholics today who openly challenge the Magisterium of the Church. Many examples can be cited, but one needn’t go further than the issue of contraception to see that this is the case.
The First Reading for today is a reminder to us that we are called to maintain the unity that Christ has established in His Church (see also Eph 4:3; CCC # 820). In today’s Gospel Reading (Matt 23:1-12), our Lord teaches us that an important aspect of maintaining this unity is by obeying the valid authority which has been established by God Himself:
"The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." (Matt 23:2-3)

If this was what our Lord expected under the Old Covenant, how much more does He require of us under the New Covenant to obey the authority of the Church which is guided by God the Holy Spirit? Furthermore, our Lord reminds us that this God-given authority ought ALWAYS to be obeyed, even in the unfortunate cases where the authority is not necessarily practising what they are preaching.
Things like the Protestant Reformation ought to serve as a constant reminder to us of the danger of self-appointed authority which sets itself up against the Church’s God-given authority. When we fail to submit to the Church’s authority, we become responsible for creating dissension in the Body of Christ; we become responsible for breaking faith with each other; and so we become responsible for breaking God’s covenant (Mal 2:10).
So, when we find ourselves struggling with submission to the Church, let us pray for grace – that God would grant us the humility to remember that we as individuals are not the final authority on the Word of God. Rather, the Church founded by our Lord Jesus on the Rock of St. Peter is the pillar and foundation of truth. And because the Church is the Body of Christ – united with Christ her Head – may we always remember that when we submit to the Church, we submit to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Justin,
    Great summary and blog, very much the same thoughts that were going through my mind this morning at mass and listening to the Word. We just have to keep praying, that one day the unity, perseverance and sacrifices of the of 'One' church will pull us all through.
    God bless, Ralph