Homily on Unity: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we hear the following from Paul: I urge you brothers and sisters 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.

And from the president of these United States of America we heard this: The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy—it did not—but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud. We may not be able to stop all of the evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.

And from Matthew we hear that Jesus went around Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Here are three people talking about the same thing—Paul, Matthew and our president—talking about unity among peoples and the things that threaten our unity. The president talks about a more civil discourse in American public life. Paul talks about complete unity among Christians, and Matthew points out that Jesus healed “every disease and illness among the people”.

I’m not sure why the man, Jared Loughner, who is accused of shooting 19 people in Tucson went on his killing rampage. It’s hard to imagine that he was driven to this by pundits and politicos babbling on our radios and televisions. It’s hard to believe that he was inspired by Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or any other person with a microphone and an audience. And it doesn’t really matter why he did it. We may never know. The important part is the aftermath of the shooting spree and the desire among Americans for more unity. This tragedy in Tucson seems to have kicked up in us a desire for more civility, more unity, and less paralyzing division.

Look deeply in yourself and see if you don’t recognize the same desire for union with your brothers and sisters. Is your family divided? Are you at odds with your employer? Are you not speaking to your best friend? The pain of all of this comes when we realize we could be closer, more united, less divided.

The assassination of a federal judge, the cold blooded killing of a 9 year old girl, and the near murder of a U.S. Congresswoman has brought our country to a moment of soul searching and leaves us scrounging for elusive unity. The pain of the moment has us scrambling and scratching at anything that might unite us. We lower our flags, we pray, we bow our heads in search of a thing that might unite us.

The church is no different and is not immune to the crippling disease of division. We have liberals and conservatives. Traditionalists and progressives. I myself have fallen victim to naming and labeling those that have a different image of the church. Perhaps you’ve done the same. And I’m just talking about the Roman Catholic Church. It’s no secret that a brief scan of ecclesial history shows us a Christianity that is deeply divided. We have Catholics, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Pentecostals and Baptists, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals of every stripe, and non-denominational mega-churches sprouting all over the country. In the wider world we have more division—Eastern Orthodox and Coptic, and Syro-Malabar. Each Christian of whatever profession meets each week in their own place of worship—sometimes denouncing the other Christians as misguided, or flat out wrong. Perhaps you have your own theories about what has caused such division within the Christian family. But the causes are not all that important. What we are left with if a deep pain over the division. Search your heart—would you want us to be one in Christ Jesus as Paul exhorts us. Can you locate the internal injury caused by such divisions. Do you wonder why people leave the Catholic church for another? Wonder why some television preachers are so passionate to maintain the divisions which injure us? I, myself, was raised Baptist in the deep south, confirmed Methodist, and converted with my whole family to Catholicism when I was about 13. We left behind many of our family members and friends in other places of worship. Being southern we pretend it doesn’t hurt us. But, in fact, it does.

Moreover, the divisions we encounter in the world do not merely exist on the external dimensions of our lives. We are divided on the interior. Be honest with yourself and you will see the divisions within. We are often divided and separated from the person we would like to be. As Paul says, we know the good we ought to do, but, to paraphrase him, it’s just nearly impossible to do the good we want to do. The divisions are inside of each of us, brothers and sisters in Christ.

So what are we to do? Who do we want to become? It seems we are left alone in this divided world, trapped in our divided selves.

Perhaps you’re the kind of Catholic, and there are these types, who believe that we have all the answers and if other Christians would merely come to their sense and join us then all might be one in Christ. Perhaps, there are some who think we have all the answers and that the fullest expression of Christianity exists here in this very building. If only our neighbors could see with our eyes of faith then we might all be one in Christ. Perhaps, you are another type of Catholic who is happy to let others worship as they may. But this is just whitewashing over the division in the body of Christ. What are we to do? Who do we want to become? I think the answer is fairly simple, though. Yes, simple.

I suggest we look inside and find the Jesus from today’s gospel—the Jesus who healed every illness and disease. If you don’t think you are afflicted with disease of division then you are not being honest with yourself. We are all afflicted with a certain illness and the illness has symptoms—pain, regret, confusion, and a strong drive inside to become whole. Whole as a church, a community, and as a person.

The healing begins when we recognize the symptoms and catch hold of the strong desire in us to be one. Notice all of the politicians and pundits in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting—most were preaching the gospel of American unity. The president certainly preached the gospel of American unity. There has been in the air and on the airwaves a spirit of reconciliation, but as we know this will probably not last very long before someone shouts down another over a petty difference. Look at the aftermath of 9/11, the spirit of unity lasted about a month. Perhaps, just two weeks after Tucson we have already exhausted our patience with the spirit of unity.

Find the Jesus who healed every disease and illness. Find him here in your brothers and sisters in Christ, find him in the Eucharist, but most importantly find his still small voice guiding you from within. Jesus came to crush the walls we use to divide ourselves from one another and from our very selves. Jesus preached a kingdom where all might be one with one another.

Whatever we might believe as Catholics, do no loose sight of the fact that we firmly believe, we know and trust, that we will encounter this Christ, this Jesus who heals and is one in God the Creator of us all.

Jeff Johnson S.J.

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