In the course of hearing today’s readings, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Christ’s prayer that we might be one as He and the Father are one.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians are easily applied to the Church throughout history and no less today: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”1 Corinthians 1:10.
In the year 325 AD, nearly 300 years after Christ had offered His ministry, undergone His passion, died and rose again, the 1st Council of Nicea was called. This was the first ecumenical council (the Second Vatican Council of our time was the 21st council, to give some perspective). It seemed that there were troubles within Christendom, despite the fact that the emperor had declared Christianity legal just over a decade prior in the Edict of Milan.
A man named Arius was the source of the trouble. He had a theory about Christ – that He was not in fact eternal, that there was a time when He was not, that He was a creature and thus less than God. As you can imagine, this theory – let loose in a world still figuring out what the Church was and how to be in the world – was causing no small amount of division. One of the fruits of the Council of Nicea was the prayer that we now offer each Sunday Mass: the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed is simple proclamation of what we believe, from nature of God, the history and salvation of humanity, and our hope for eternal life. Towards the end there are given the four marks of the Church: (1) One, (2) Holy, (3) Catholic, and (4) Apostolic. It is revealing that the first mark of the Church is that she is one – that she is unified.
In the Mass there is a point where the priest breaks a piece of the host – the Precious Body – and drops it into the chalice of the Precious Blood. This practice arose over time as the Church began to grow beyond her early numbers.
At first, when the faithful came together to celebrate Mass, it was the bishop who presided – and so the whole church, from apostolic successor to laity was represented at the Mass. But as the Church grew in numbers, a bishop could not be at every Mass. And so when the bishop did celebrate Mass, a fragment of one of the hosts consecrated at his Mass was taken to the Mass where the bishop could not be present. This host was joined to the Precious Blood of that Mass as a sign of the unity between that community and the bishop. Although that practice no longer takes place, the placing of a fragment of the host into chalice (known as commingling) calls to mind our unity with the bishop, and through him, to the larger, universal Church.
This unity is a bedrock of our faith. And we know how deadly the results of disunity can be. The world is a mess, and it is fair to say that every sinful action in the world is a result of the disunity between humans, and ultimately, between humanity and God.
And what is disunity, if not a withholding of some part of ourselves from God? We can look at our first parents, Adam & Eve, and see how this played out. God created the world for them, gave them everything – and asked one thing in return: their obedience. They withheld that obedience, and sin entered the world.
Similarly, Jesus – having called His disciples, perhaps even by name, to have the world as their mission territory – was betrayed by one of His own. Despite the many miracles worked in his presence, the compelling presence of Jesus Himself, the wonders of the promise of the kingdom, Judas could not turn over his trust to Christ, and so turned Christ over to be crucified.
There is a phrase that is often thrown around in Catholic circles – I’m sure you’ve come across it in one way or another: Cafeteria Catholicism. I find that it is rarely truly helpful as used, which is to say that it is an easy way to label someone as a dissenter, as apart from the Body of Christ. And it is rarely helpful because of a simple fact:
We are all cafeteria Catholics.
We are all cafeteria Catholics because each time we sin, we have chosen to withhold something from God. Big or small, we choose to keep something to ourselves that God is asking us to surrender.
Yesterday we celebrated the shameful anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the day when abortion was universally legalized in the United States.
Imagine what would have happened if we had spoken with one voice nearly thirty years ago. Imagine how many lives would have been saved. How many might have been saved if we had spoken with one voice in our votes in the years following – in the more recent elections. We can imagine what influence we might have had on the world if we had that same unity on the issues of euthanasia, now legal in our state of Washington, the death penalty, and others.
Last week on Tuesday, we had an estimated 2500 people here at Saint Michaels, joined together to worship God and pray for the end of abortion. At the March for Life at the state capitol, roughly 4500 people gathered to testify that we are conceived human.
That was the power of unity.
What are you withholding from God? What invitation has God placed in your heart that you have resisted – perhaps all your life, perhaps in more recent times?
I would like to place a challenge before you this week. Pick one issue, one sin, one part of yourself that you have struggled to surrender, one article of faith that you can not bring yourself to believe, one practice of your baptism that you can not perform – pick just one of these, and offer it to the Lord daily for this coming week.
This is not the time to do research, to seek spiritual guidance, to engage in debate. It is a time to surrender. To turn this one thing over to God with the trust that He will somehow make good of it despite our fear and doubt.
Through baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, we are made a light to the nations, fishers of men, the Body of Christ. We have a need to embrace God entirely, holding nothing back. May we make the effort, may God bless our desire.
May we be one, just as the Father and the Son are one.