Preventing Divisions in the Parish

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 8:23-9:3

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles. Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

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. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Sunday Homily

Here are some things that may be dividing us at St. Anthony’s: A few people don’t think we should be using Alpha; a few didn’t want us to give 10% of our collection to those in need; some don’t like the one hour, 15-minute Masses; some disagree with our stance on moral issues like abortion, talking about mortal sin, getting drunk, etc.; some have even complained about my homilies (gasp!).

Now some of these aren’t huge divisions, and we’re not all divided, but we’re always going to be tempted to division, at least when we think: “I’m not interested in what the parish is doing.”

Jesus wants our parish family to be united. St. Paul writes in the second reading: “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’” (1 Cor 1:11-12). The new Christians in Corinth were now in factions, disputing with each other: some said they followed St. Paul, who founded their Church in 51 A.D.; others followed Apollos, a talented lay preacher; others followed Cephas, the Greek name for St. Peter, the first pope; while others followed Christ—no scholar is exactly sure what faction this refers to, but the main point is that they were divided.

How about us? Are we traditional or liberal Catholics? Progressive or conservative? Are we engaged or unengaged, meaning we don’t fully support where the parish is going?

In the first four chapters of this letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul talks about those who consider themselves to be spiritually mature, but actually, they’re the ones who are the source of division (Scott Hahn, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament, 284-5, 287-8). So, for us here to grow in unity, we all need to mature, myself included.

He writes, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). He calls them ‘brothers and sisters’ to soften the strong words that will come, and to remind them and us that brothers and sisters are a family (William Barclay, Corinthians, in The Daily Study Bible, 13). The fact that he’s appealing in ‘the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ Who’s died for us (C.K. Barrett, Corinthians, in Black’s New Testament Commentaries, 41) is a sign of how important our unity is.

St. Paul wants us to be ‘united in the same mind and the same purpose.’ How? Catholics have what are called the visible bonds of communion: one faith, one worship, one governance (See CCC 815). The easiest way to remember this is that:

  1. we believe the same things;
  2. we pray the same way;
  3. we have the same leadership.

The reason Protestants are partially separated is because they have different beliefs, don’t have the sacraments, and don’t follow the Church’s hierarchy. Orthodox Christians have the seven sacraments and essentially the same teachings, but don’t obey the pope.

But this affects us Catholics too. When one of us skips Mass on Sunday to play sports, this hurts our family unity because we’re no longer praying together. Not only is it a mortal sin against God, it’s a sin against the sacred family meal Jesus gave us. When one of us in our hearts doesn’t believe one of the official teachings of the Church, it’s a sin against unity. Let’s explain.

Our examination of conscience asks, “Did I refuse to believe any official teachings of the Church?” This means teachings, not practices. We don’t have to agree with every practical decision of the pope (like whom he appoints as bishop) (See Dr. Jeff Mirus on obedience to the church and criticizing bishops or even the pope ; also Dan Hitchens ) or like our church music, that priests wear black (though I feel I look good in black). This question refers to official Church teaching, like bishops being the successors of the apostles—that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Official teaching includes moral issues like abortion, gay marriage, in vitro fertilization, etc. It doesn’t refer to whether parishes should use Alpha or not.

To be a sin would mean there’s a refusal to believe, not just questioning. Questioning means, “Hmm… I don’t know why women can’t become priests. I accept it, but don’t know why.” Many Catholics don’t know the reasons but trust the Church’s teaching—why? Because they’ve figured out something essential to Catholicism, and it works in two steps:

  1. Do you believe Jesus is God?
  2. Do you believe Jesus founded the Catholic Church?

That’s why I’ve given many homilies on the evidence for these two assertions. If we believe these two ideas, it’s logical that we’ll accept the Church’s official teachings, because Jesus gave the first pope the ability to define teaching and protects the Church from teaching error—that’s from Matthew, chapter 16.

But, if we don’t know if Jesus is God or if He founded the Church, then it’s logical that we won’t trust the Church. Now, here’s the thing: for many of us, no one’s ever talked to us about these ideas. The fact that we get stuck on the morality of issues like abortion, etc., reveals that we’re unsure about one of these two questions.
To be a sin, we would consciously say, “I don’t trust this or that official teaching despite knowing that Jesus is God and that He founded the Church.” “But,” you could ask, “Fr. Justin, what if I don’t know if Jesus founded the Church?” Then you have to start investigating these most important ideas.

I’m sorry if this is overwhelming and you’ve never heard any of this before, but we had to touch on them eventually. And I hope this will help your spiritual and intellectual growth!

On the other hand, for many of us, we think, “Yeah, it’s clear Jesus is God. And I know He founded the Church. So, I do believe her official teachings. But what are her official teachings?” Just go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church—that’s our sure guide.

Here are the advantages of trusting in the Church: Not only do we have a clear, strong faith in Jesus according to what the Bible teaches, but we don’t have to research every single teaching for ourselves. Protestants have to study the Bible and church history forever before realizing that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, that Jesus ordained priests, that Mary is our mother.

With this unity in the Church, we still have diversity in music, prayer, the way we live our lives, provided there’s nothing immoral (St. Paul VI, Solemni Hac Liturgia, 21 ). And even with these three visible bonds, the Church teaches that we still need above all the invisible bond called love (CCC 815). In other words, even if we believe the same things, go to the sacraments, and follow the bishops, if we’re not virtuous, then we’ll be divided. Every time we’re inhospitable, impatient, rude, selfish, lazy, we hurt unity. If we watch pornography at night in secret, we hurt each other, because we’re a spiritual family.

Now that’s Catholic Church unity. But there’s still parish unity, because each parish is a particular family with a special mission. For example, we’re here to become saints [vision], which is why I try to love and challenge you constantly. Not every Catholic will agree with this style of spirituality. My hope is that, if you understand that our parish is very up front about desiring to become saints, you’ll understand why we give 10% of the parish’s money to those in need, why our Sunday Masses are longer than most, because, if we want to grow in charity and love, we can’t rush our most important prayer. If we’re going to be united, we need to agree with this parish vision, otherwise there’ll be disunity. The vision can change in the future, but for now it gives us focus.

Our vision also calls us to proclaim Jesus in every circumstance. I realize that this pushes many of us out of our comfort zone. I never used to focus on evangelization so much until recent years when my heart was converted. St. Paul says something interesting today: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17). Scripture scholars note that St. Paul is not minimizing the importance of baptism, but simply reminding us that his primary mission is to proclaim (E.g. The Letters of St. Paul, in The Navarre Bible, 191). For decades, we Catholics have been told that all we have to do is love people, be holy, and that’s enough for evangelization, which is incorrect. Witness of a holy life comes first, yes, but is not enough (St. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21-22 ). Proclaiming is necessary (St. John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 33, not in a pushy way, but a loving way, that’s suited to each of us. I’m sorry if all this talk about evangelization is challenging for you, but this is what Jesus asks of us (Mt 28:19-20).

A few feel we shouldn’t use Alpha because it has some theological errors in it because it was created by the Anglican church. The truth is there are a few theological errors in Alpha, but the vast majority of it agrees with Catholic teaching. And if there were a better Catholic version, we would use it.

So, why do we use it? Because its presentation of Christ and other truths of the faith are so riveting and captivating that it moves our hearts. St. Paul today talks about the power of Jesus’ Cross to save, and Alpha’s videos do this in a remarkable way. Thousands of non-practicing Catholics have had a conversion through it, and thousands of people have become Catholic through it.

St. Basil the Great asked in the 4th century if his students should read non-Christian authors with error in them when they have the Bible and the saints? He answers, “It is incumbent upon us… to trace… the silhouette of virtue in the pagan authors,” that is, non-Catholic writers . He wants young people to read Cicero, Virgil, Pythagoras. He doesn’t say we accept uncritically everything they teach, because we’re on a search for truth. Part of being Catholic is seeing the good everywhere, even outside of Christian circles. This is why every seminary reads the philosopher Aristotle, even though he had error in his writings; but, on the ideas which he’s right about, he’s one of a kind. This is why Pope Benedict XVI quotes Protestant books and scholars. This is why we should use Alpha.

One of the errors in Alpha is how it explains we know the Bible is God’s word. Nicky Gumbel, the presenter in the Alpha videos, admits that he oversimplifies his explanation into that:

  1. the Bible claims to be God’s word;
  2. it seems to be God’s word; and
  3. it proves to be God’s word (Why and How Should I Read the Bible, 7:13)

—but this isn’t what Catholics believe and it isn’t historically accurate. A more persuasive explanation is that Jesus is God, He founded the Church, and this Church declared what books are inspired by God—that’s what happened historically. That said, none of the errors of Alpha lead us to sin. We tolerate them the same way we tolerate the errors of Aristotle, and then correct them in Faith Studies and other formation programs.

Last point: Our parish is being divided by the large number of young people who don’t encounter Christ, aren’t being discipled, and so are walking away. I didn’t think I was going to announce this now, but God’s been telling me for the past nine months and I have to do it now: We need to hire a full-time young adult and youth minister. Many of you have been telling me to think about our children, and so I asked our 138 members of the Intercessory Prayer Ministry to pray for guidance on this, and I got the answer two weeks later that we’ve got to start the process now. In a few months, I plan on asking everyone to give sacrificially and financially to support this. And this is part of the greater context of our family’s growth. We’ll need to hire other people too: some hires are very visible like this one, but others are necessary too—I’ll let the Holy Spirit guide us on this.

Everything has to lead us to Christ, Who is the truth, and help us love like Him. Years ago, I didn’t understand why many Catholics focused on pro-life to the exclusion of helping the poor. I knew pro-life was the most important moral issue because abortion kills the most people, but I saw so many Catholics only living part of the Gospel. One day, I was talking to Br. Juniper about this and explained my frustration. He was so kind and logical at the same time. He said, “Well, look at us Franciscans, we live with the poor and live simple lives, but we’re also 100% pro-life and know that abortion kills the most people.” When I heard that, my heart was finally converted. Here was a Catholic who followed the Church’s teachings and lived it with grace. If we seek the truth and live it with love, and if we believe the same things, pray the same way, and have the same Church leadership, then we’ll be united to Christ and to each other.

Source: The Just Measure : Preventing Divisions in the Parish

Posted: January 26, 2020

Fr. Jusin Huang

Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.

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