The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
January 22, 2017
“Christians, like snowflakes, are frail...but when they stick together they can stop traffic.” These words were first penned by the American author and preacher Vance Havner nearly half a century ago, but given the current climate in our country, in the world, and in the Church, and given the rather funny modern re-appropriation of the term “snowflake,” I believe that they are timely enough to repeat. Anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to think, and a heart to feel can say, undoubtedly, that there is a tremendous amount of division among us in our own day. Not just differences, not just distinctions, but real division: separateness, discord, and rupture. And while five minutes on Facebook or Twitter will reveal how true this is globally, five more minutes looking into our own lives will probably reveal divisions even more painful: divided families, broken marriages, severed relationships, etc. Everywhere we go, inside and outside our homes, we encounter person against person and heart against heart. The more self-righteous among us will be tempted to respond to this division by angrily pointing fingers, trying to find the first cause of it all and then seeking some kind of unattainable retribution from the presumed guilty party. The more defeatist among us will be tempted to respond by throwing in the towel and giving up on humanity. Both of these are inadequate responses to the pain caused by division. Division hurts...and it hurts because, in our guts, we know that we’re made for more. We know that discord in humanity was not and is not the Creator’s plan...He made us in His image and likeness, desiring us to be as truly and really united amongst ourselves as He is in Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And what’s more, He created us, both individually and collectively, to be united with Him. And yet our self-love, time and again, has thwarted all of this, resulting in an abundance of sin in this world of ours, tearing us apart from God and from each other. But instead of getting angry or depressed over this, we can take refuge in the reality that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. That’s what Havner is hinting at with his words, offering us both a truth and a challenge. The truth is that Christ has come into our broken, fractured world and has given to us the means by which to become whole and united again: in Him, in His Body, the Church. The challenge for us is to use our own free wills with the grace we have received to unite ourselves more and more to the Mystical Body of Christ. The solution to the division we see in the world is not just to boost up our tolerance and to become more accepting and “open,” but rather to become more like Christ, more one with Him. This is what gives us the power to put the brakes on the speeding train of sin and division and, as Havner says, to stop traffic.
In our second reading today, St. Paul is exhorting the early Christians in Corinth to accept and to conform their lives to this truth...the truth that Jesus Christ – and He alone – is the source of any hoped for unity in this broken world. He gets a little tough with them, calling them out for their rivalries and disagreements, and beckons them to keep their eyes and hearts focused on Christ Crucified. Paradoxically, it is the division of Christ’s body and blood on the Cross, the tearing apart of God-in-the-Flesh, the complete and utter sacrifice of His own self, that gives birth to a new and everlasting reality for mankind: a way to be united, a way to be one, a way to be whole with God, and with each other, in Christ. The sacrifice of His body on the Cross brings about the new life of His body, the Church, and offers to the entire world the reconciliation it hungers and thirsts for. St. Paul wants to make sure that the Corinthians, and we by extension, understand this reality and embrace it, but he also wants us to be aware of the great cost of the unity offered to the world in Christ: sacrifice, the laying down of one’s own life. Those of us who wish to be made one in Christ’s body, those of us who truly wish to be united to our God and our neighbor, must follow where the Master Himself has gone...we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, to lay down our self-love, and offer our lives as a sacrifice of love for God and for one another.
In the last year of his life, St. Thomas Aquinas went to the city of Naples to preach a series of sermons during Lent. One of these sermons focused entirely on the Apostle’s Creed and St. Thomas, systematically, went through each of the articles. While reflecting on the article concerning the Church, he devoted a good bit of time to speaking about the unity of the Church: how this unity is caused in the first place and how it continues to cause greater unity. He posited that the unity of the Church arises from the three-fold virtues of faith, hope, and love, each of which is a participation in the sacrifice of Christ’s Cross. Faith, he says, is the first thing that binds the Church together, because “all Christians who are of the body of Christ believe the same doctrine.” This requires the sacrifice of our egos and the ability to subject our intellects to the truths of Divine Revelation. Hope, he says, is the second thing that binds the Church together, because all Christians who are of the body of Christ share in the joyful expectation of eternal life. This requires us to sacrifice our pessimism and our attachment to purely worldly things. And finally, St. Thomas says that love is the third thing that binds the Church together, because all Christians should see that the love God has for them individually is a love that extends to all people without exception, and that this love – a sacrificial love indeed – is the truest sign of a person’s new life in Christ. But this requires the sacrifice of our whole selves, willingly and even joyfully putting the love of God and the love of our neighbor before the love of our selves. These three virtues, lived out perfectly by Christ, keep the Church united and one. And when we, who are the members of the Body of Christ, can live them out in our own day and time, we further and expand the Church’s unity, eliminating the division and discord in our world one heart at a time.
Before ascending onto the altar of His Cross, Jesus cried out in prayer to His Father, “Keep them in Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one just as We are one.” My friends, these are the words we are called to live by. These are the words that give our world the hope it so desperately needs. If you and I do our part, if we sacrifice ourselves daily to excel by grace in the virtues of faith, hope, and love, for the sake of God and our neighbor, then what is separated can become whole again, what is divided can become one. At this Holy Mass today, let us pray for the strength to lay down our lives, to conform ourselves to Christ Crucified, and pray, with Him, that we may all be one. Fragile as we may be, together we can stop traffic.