Sunday, 22 January 2017 : Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, as we go through the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is appropriate for us to reflect firstly on what we heard in the second reading, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Church and the faithful in Corinth, where he rebuked the Christians there for their divisiveness. At that time, the Church and the faithful there were divided bitterly among themselves as they were not able to agree on exactly who to believe in.

In order to understand this, we should understand the very nature of our Christian faith. Our faith is a faith by proclamation and witness. We received our faith and the teachings of those faith from those who have themselves received it from their teachers. Thus we believe because of witness, and because of the faith of those who have themselves received the same teachings.

But then, the question is that, how do we then make sure that the teachings are genuine, accurate and true? After all, as we have already seen, that even in the earliest days of the Church, there had been divisions and also conflict amongst the faithful because of the different ways the faith and its teachings were interpreted amongst the faithful, with both St. Paul and Apollos being charismatic and great preachers. Certainly they would gain plenty of following among the people.

Both of them might have indeed taught the exact same set of teachings, and although as told in the other part of the Acts of the Apostles, that Apollos had some mistakes in his teachings as he was not fully versed in the fullness of the Church’s teachings, unlike St. Paul, who have received the Holy Spirit and coordinated with St. Peter and the other Apostles, but as soon as some other disciples of the Lord pointed out his errors, he quickly rectified the mistake.

Rather, most likely the problem came about because of how we the hearers of the Good News interpret the message, and each of us make a different interpretation among ourselves. It is our human nature that we often like what we like to hear, such as parts that suit our objectives and needs, while at the same time we filter out the messages and parts that we do not like or do not favour us.

That is why the divisions came about in the Church and amongst the faithful, precisely because each and every person interpret the faith in the way that they like, and not in the way that it should be interpreted and understood. And then we may have the question of how then can we receive the faith that we now have in the correct and accurate manner?

This is where the Church comes in, brothers and sisters, the importance of the Church as an institution, not just in terms of the Church hierarchy and leadership that maintain control over the teachings and the traditions of our faith, but more importantly because it, being the collective Body of Christ on earth, as the union of all those who believe in God and call themselves as Christians, is the very important safeguard against those who would corrupt, misrepresent and misinterpret the faith and its teachings.

Without such a safeguard, then it is difficult to maintain the integrity and the truth of the faith as how it should be. The Church is the safe-keeper of the truth which our Lord Jesus Christ had proclaimed to the world, which then were passed down through His Apostles, and from them to their successors, and from their successors to their successors’ successors. And thus it was through the Church, through our bishops and priests, the successors of the Apostles that we have received this faith.

All the divisions of the Church since the beginnings of the Church, even from the days of the Apostles to the present day are caused by the disobedience, pride, greed and the rebelliousness we mankind, the people of God had done, which because of the refusal of men to obey the teachings of the Church, they had gone wayward, interpreting the Scriptures as they wished and in their own limited understanding, which resulted in the splintering of the body of the faithful into many pieces.

At the same time, we also have to acknowledge that the Church itself also is not entirely out of blame. The Church is human just as much as it is Divine. It may be instituted by the Lord, and authority have been given to it and its stewards, the Apostles and their successors, but after all, it was still feeble and sinful men and women who had been part of this Church, led it, and sometimes brought it into erroneous ways.

It was because of the corruption within the Church, the immorality of its leaders and even the Popes themselves were wicked in their actions, which resulted in the desire of certain people to reform the Church. There had been many occasions, harking earlier to the earliest days of the Church that the Church had not always been faithful to the truth, but was misled by false and heretical ways, and yet, almost every time, God called holy and committed men and women to correct the wrong ways, and those who refused to return to the true faith were expelled from the Church. Many did eventually return and repent their sins.

Indeed, we have to take note that as what happened five centuries ago, when the ‘Reformation’ rocked the entire Church and brought great harm to many of the faithful, there were many good intentioned reformers who wanted to see the Church purged from its corruption and worldliness, as then the Church had been too absorbed into worldly and secular ways to the point that it was hardly a dependable and reliable source of spiritual guidance to the people.

And yet, while the intentions of those reformers were probably good, but their methods of going about trying to achieve their goals were very wrong. They took it upon themselves to sunder the unity of the Church, and by declaring that the Scriptures alone was their authority, each and every person soon took it upon themselves to interpret what the Scriptures meant for them, and therefore, what they believed in. Some chose what they liked to believe and others threw away all those that they refused to believe in. This created confusion, and a ripe ground for the devil to sow further division and discord.

Let us all look back at the Church fathers, the collective body of the saints and martyrs who had once led the Church in its earliest days. They have carefully preserved the teachings of Christ and His Good News just exactly as how He passed it down to His Apostles and to them. Those who damaged the unity of the Church did so because they misunderstood the faith, and they ignored the Church’s ways because they were too focused on its faults then, and refused to maintain the truth which it had kept and preserved throughout time, up to this very day.

It was also then misinformation, socio-political issues and other misunderstandings that prevented the reunion of the faithful people of God into His Church. There were many false informations, lies and other falsehoods which became entangled with political issues, social issues, and even issues of pride, human greed and stubbornness, which kept the gap and the chasm between the divided members of the Church wide and even growing ever wider.

This is where then it is important that as Christians, those who belong to God’s Church, and as a member of the holy and venerable Body of Christ, which had guarded the Apostolic Tradition of our faith, and the fullness of the teachings of Christ, led by the Apostle St. Peter and his successors, our Popes, that we must remember what is our faith truly about, which I have mentioned at the very beginning of this discourse, that is about being witnesses of Christ.

That is why each and every one of us have the calling and the mission from God, to be witnesses of the faith, showing through our deeds and actions that we truly belong to God, that is by loving one another and showing care and concern for our less fortunate brethren around us. And it is important that we stick closely to the Church and its teachings, as Jesus Himself had said in another occasion in the Gospels, that He is the true Vine, and all who have no part in Him and have separated themselves from Him will have no life in them.

Therefore, similarly, if we do not adhere closely to the Church and separates ourselves from it, then that is why divisions came about, and we are bringing upon ourselves and others not the grace of salvation but the sins of error and condemnation by God. As Christians, we must work to overcome the divisions and the misunderstandings, all the obstacles that had prevented many of those who believe in God, and yet outside the Church from returning to the Holy Mother Church.

In this week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let us all Christians pray fervently together, that everyone who believe in God will no longer be separated, that everyone will be just as what Jesus our Lord wants them to be, to be one and united just as He and the Father is one. This is the prayer which Jesus Himself prayed on the night before He was to suffer and die, and prayer that He had asked the Father to bestow on His Church.

Therefore, those who foment divisions and spread lies and misinformations about the faith, not adhering to the teachings of the Church as passed down unto us from the Apostles are against the wishes of the Lord. Yet, sadly it is the reality of our world today that there are many both outside and inside the Church who are against unity. Rather, it is important that we overcome those misinformations, and therefore, it is important that each and every one of us, members of the Church, know fully what our faith is about.

After all, if we ourselves are unaware of what our faith is about, how can we then convince others to reunite and reconcile themselves with the Church? There have been good signs, as there have been quite a few of those who have decided to repent and return to the embrace of the Mother Church, after they had studied the teachings of the Church fathers, read their writings and works, and found in them the same faith as what our Church, the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church have today, even almost two millennia away from the days of those holy saints.

Let us all therefore pray together, brethren, that the unity of the Church will be restored, and each and every one of us as Christians will know the fullness of the truth of God and the wholeness of His teachings, which He had passed on to His Apostles, and which the Church had preserved and kept for many ages. Let us all be agents of true unity in the Church, not by compromising our faith, but instead by being witnesses of the truth of God and knowing His truth.

We are all called to be shepherds and guides to all those who have fallen on their way towards the Lord. It is imperative then, even up to this present day and era, that we work to our best capabilities, in order to make many more people see the truth found in the Church. Let us all do our best, and pray that God will help us in all of our endeavours. May God be with His Church and with His people, bless all of their works, and bring all of His faithful one together as one flock, one people. Amen.

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