Homily: 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Author Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book series is a wildly popular series of young adult romance/fantasy novels that describes the story of Bella, a teenage girl of divorced parents who is forced to move away from her mother’s home in Arizona to live with her father in Washington state, a place where she has spent little time and knows next to nothing about. Once there, the familiar story ensues: Bella has trouble fitting in at first, but then finds herself befriended by a dark and mysterious boy, Edward, who nonetheless is a chivalrous “knight in shining armor” to her. These “dark” figures in these stories always have some sort of secret and when Edward reveals his secret to her—that is, that he is a vampire—all of the drama that typically ensues when a “regular person” enters into someone else’s secret world begins; which, in this case, is the drama of letting a non-vampire into the “inner-circle” of the vampire world. This unique mix of romantic drama and fantasy adventure is what makes these novels particularly appealing (at least, that’s what the experts say).
In the second book of the series, Bella befriends Jacob (a “shape changer”, who only seems to know how to change into a wolf… hey, it’s fantasy, don’t ask me to explain it). What ensues from this, of course, is that Bella is now caught in a “love triangle” and faces the tension of having to choose between her deep, passionate love for Edward and her sincere, intimate friendship with Jacob. This tension spilled over into the readers of these books and not long after the release of this second book, devotees of the series began to split themselves up into “teams”: that is, Team Edward and Team Jacob. Thus, the once united devotees of the Twilight series now found themselves to be rivals against one another.
If you think about it, this kind of reaction is actually pretty characteristic of fallen humanity (that is, human nature after Original Sin). All through human history we can find examples of how peoples once united under a common interest (whether that be on grand, political or social scales, or just on smaller more aesthetic ones) often find themselves divided when some tension that touches on deeply held values arises. At first, devotees of the Twilight series were united in their hope that Bella and Edward would survive the tensions of Edward’s secret life and live “happily ever after.” After the introduction of Jacob, however, devotees became divided on who would be best for Bella; and instead of trying to hold that tension in balance and respecting the fact that both options have benefits and limitations for her, devotees set up rivalries against one another in the hope of defeating (and thus eliminating) the opposing faction.
One only need to spend a short time in the Church to find out that she is not immune to this flaw of human character and our reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describes one of the earliest documented examples of this. Paul (as he mentions elsewhere in his letters) strove to be “all things to all people” and it seems as if he had a special charism to be just that. Anywhere he went he preached in synagogues, in public squares, in schools among learned men, and among the laborers of the town and he made many converts. The city of Corinth was no exception. Initially, the diversity of socio-political and economic status among the converts was ignored. After some time, however, divisions and rivalries began to emerge.
When Paul left to continue his mission in other cities, others came in (for example, Apollos) who had their own style and focus in preaching the Gospel. These different styles appealed to different groups within the community and tension arose surrounding whose teaching was the best. As Saint Paul records for us in his letter, there arose rival “teams” in the Church in Corinth: Team Paul, Team Apollos, Team Cephas (or Peter), and Team Christ. Paul writes to them to denounce such rivalries among them and to urge them to be “united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Paul knows what a scandal it is to Christ and to the Gospel that his followers would be divided against themselves and so he urges the Church in Corinth to put aside their differences so that the full splendor of Christ’s truth may shine forth from them.
Unfortunately, Paul’s words only went so far among Christians. In the 11th and the 16th centuries Christians splintered because of rivalries amongst themselves, splitting the east from the west in the 11th century and in the 16th century in the west between Catholics and the Protestant reformers. More locally, however, we see the divisions even here in our own county; and they’ve gone so far that we don’t even know what it means to be called “Christian” anymore! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say to me “I’m not Catholic, I’m Christian”, as if Catholics aren’t Christians! Saint Paul would be rolling over in his grave if he heard us speaking like this! We’ve made our identities as followers of Christ subject to the particular group that we worship with on Sunday, instead of with Christ himself. In doing so, we have brought scandal upon Christ and the Gospel.
And don’t think that this is limited to our relationships with the other Christian communities in the county. Plenty of times within our own community here I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, Father, I like you so much more than Father Mike.” Teams Fr. Mike and Fr. Petan are not allowed here! If we are divided among ourselves, how then can we evangelize? Rather, we must be “united in the same mind and in the same purpose”, so that the Gospel message that comes forth from our community may be clear and the full splendor of Christ’s truth may shine from us.
This need, my brothers and sisters, to reclaim our unity as Christians is this week’s call to deeper discipleship. Last week, we were called to slow down and to behold—that is, to contemplate—Jesus, the Lamb of God. If we have done that well then this week we are ready to begin the next step: Repent and come. My brothers and sisters, when we take time to behold Jesus, who calls us, we begin to see that, in reality, we haven’t been following him closely and so we must repent—that is, turn away—from all that has drawn our gaze away from him. We can’t stop there, however. As we turn away from what has kept us from him so as to behold him more deeply, we must then come—that is, we must move to follow him. It wasn’t enough for Simon and Andrew, James and John to simply turn from their nets and look at Jesus; rather they also had to move from where they were at to respond to his call. When we hear Jesus calling us, we too must move to follow him. And when we do, something amazing happens: we stop focusing on each other and the things that divide us and we start to focus on what unites us, Jesus Christ our Lord.
My brothers and sisters, we have dwelt in darkness for far too long. As we slow down in our lives to contemplate Jesus, let us allow his light to shine on the darkness in our lives, highlighting especially those areas where we have let divisions and rivalries with our brothers and sisters in Christ creep in. Then let us work to repent from those things so as to come and follow him whom we behold: Jesus, who calls us—here, today—out of darkness and into his perfect light.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 25th and 26th, 2014