Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Twenty-third Sunday of the Year
Celebration of Feast of St. Peter Claver
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Matthew 18:19
There is a bond that unites human beings, regardless of their background, race, or upbringing. This bond goes by many names. We call it human compassion, empathy, and concern. It brings people together in a common task for a common goal. We are seeing this unifying energy manifested in the remarkable and heroic efforts of thousands to offer relief to the victims of the recent hurricanes. When someone is in need, we respond. When our neighbor is lacking, we extend a helping hand. It is common human decency, and we don’t have to profess belief in any particular religion to act this way. This humane way of acting is a natural response that God has placed in the heart of every human being. But what happens when the person is not in need? Instead, what happens when that person has offended us? This brings us to another bond.
In the Gospel today, Jesus speaks of another unifying principle. We call it the Church, because He is teaching us how we deal with a “brother,” not just anyone but a “brother,” who “sins against” us (Matthew 18:15). The unity of the Church, you see, is very important to our Lord. That unity cannot be dispensed with or taken for granted. After all, our Lord prayed for it the night before He died (cf. John 17:20ff.).
So, when that unity is threatened by some disagreement caused by the offensive behavior of a “brother,” Jesus tells us to “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matthew 18:16). In other words, there is an innate power present in the membership of the Church by reason of the baptismal dignity which the members share (cf. James 1:18; I Peter 2:9; I Corinthians 12:13; and numerous other writings from the epistles). Finally, if there is still no concord, then the dispute is brought to the Church, and if even this fails, “then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).
Jesus Christ does not leave His Church. He remains with her. So He bestows this power of reconciliation to His Church, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). This bond between our Lord and His Body, the Church, is so deep, so profound, that even “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:19).
So, while there is a natural bond between human beings by reason of their membership in the human race, there is an even deeper bond which joins the baptized members of the Church. This we cannot forget and this we cannot neglect.
When I see the efforts to disunite the Church today with appeals to causes, some important and some not so much so, I mourn over the state of affairs. When I hear parents tell me their children have left the Church or that this or that one is preaching a doctrine which is contrary to the truth of Jesus Christ, this is a cause of great sorrow.
I think of the example of our diocesan patron St. Peter Claver. What a world he found himself in? The abuses were horrific, arguably at least as reprehensible as anything we find today, if not more so. Yet, what did he do? He quietly went about his work of uniting to the Body of Christ, baptizing an estimated 100,000 slaves, teaching and clothing them, advocating for them, bringing them a dignity and a union with Christ and His Church that even the laws of that time could not ignore. This is remarkable. And his example is well worth taking.
When times become challenging and we want to do good, we can do nothing better than to remain united to Christ in His Church, professing our faith in the truths revealed by Him, and staying faithful. Even when our brother offends us, we are united to him. We take seriously the mandate of our Lord Himself to be reconciled, always aware of the fact that our efforts may fail. But we will have tried because the unity of the Church is far more important than our individuality or petty concerns.
In one of the oldest writings of the New Testament, St. Paul spoke of this unity. He wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:18). May God grant us the grace to understand what this really means.
Bishop Glen John Provost