3rd Sunday Ordinary Time A

Let There Be No Factions

In today’s second reading, St. Paul warns the Corinthians – and all Christians – against factions: “Be united in mind and judgment.” It should be unnecessary to tell those joined by baptism into Christ’s mystical body to avoid fighting each other! Unfortunately we, and all human beings, are prone to quarreling. In some tragic cases, throughout the history of the church, Catholics have not only quarreled, but let their quarrels end up in schism. Schism means withdrawal from, and denial of the authority Christ gave to his church and its shepherds.

Some schisms have been large and have remained unhealed even after centuries. Others have been small, sometimes, permanent, sometimes (thank God) brief. All have involved unchristian bitterness.

In the 1850’s there was a small schism in a parish in Rochester, New York. It serves as a good illustration. The issue debated was control by the laity of church funds and of pastoral appointments.

From as early as 1785, people in some American Catholic parishes had been embattled with Catholic church authorities over these matters of control. One cause of the trouble was that the state laws for parish incorporation were designed for Protestant parishes, in which, unlike Catholic parishes, laymen were allowed to manage funds and hire or fire pastors. Wherever Catholic laypeople interpreted the State law in a Catholic way, a “trustee” corporation could work out. The trouble was that lay Catholic trustees so often abused their powers – even violently – that the American bishops had to forbid this type of lay participation entirely. Gradually, from 1829 to 1850, the bishops were able to put an end to most of these factional quarrels.

But not to all. In the 1850’s, in a handful of American Catholic parishes, “trusteeists” decided to make a last stand. One was the German Catholic parish of St. Peter’s Rochester. Here the ringleaders were so bitter that they even worked hand-in-glove with the Know-nothings (an anti-Catholic political party) to get a state law passed demanding that Catholic parishes incorporate according to the Protestant form. When the bishop (John Timon of Buffalo) suspended church services at St. Peter’s as a countermove, they replied by incorporating a new parish called “The Christ Catholic St. Stephen’s Congregation.” This was schism. Even though they used the adjective “Catholic,” they were no longer a part of the Catholic Church, and no Catholic could attend worship there in good conscience.

Fortunately, the dissidents came to their senses eventually. By 1862 Bishop Timon had received all but one back into the Catholic fold. The Catholic parish was reincorporated under the name “Ss. Peter and Paul,” and as such it still functions.

Even today, however, Catholics can be tempted to schism. Factions still arise and some Catholics even leave the Church to worship at other churches that may call themselves “Catholic” but are not in union with either the local Catholic bishop or through him, with the pope. Schism has often been called “tearing apart of the seamless robe of Christ” – that is, splitting the people of God into parts. Christ prayed “that all may be one.” Those who foster disunion are therefore enemies of Christ’s prayer.

-Fr. Robert F. McNamara

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Q303: Is the gospel today (Mt 4:12-23) showing us how easy it is to become a good Disciple?

Yes and no. Today we hear of Jesus’ invitation to Peter, Andrew, James and John to “follow him,” to jump into his own net. And immediately they drop their own nets, leave their jobs and careers, and follow Jesus.

I wish it were that easy! The ‘immediate’ response to Jesus’ invitation to each one of us is, of course, an immediate, hearty “yes” – or at least so it ought to be. But there is much more to Discipleship than simply jumping into the net of Jesus. After spending time with Jesus, becoming one with Him, we now need to leave the ‘net’ and become the attracting light of Christ for others. Everyone calls everyone else to repentance, both by word and deed.

We each have different gifts, and all are gifts received from the ‘throne of grace’ (as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says). But we are all given one mission: to spread the good news of salvation in and through Jesus Christ. Everything we say or do needs to point to the saving Cross of Jesus, in one loving way or another. St. Paul reminds us of our different gifts, when he says that even he, also an apostle, was not sent to baptize, but to preach (Second Reading, 1 Cor 1:10,13-17). Have you taken time to consider your own gifts, and how Jesus wants you to use them?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM!  Do not neglect the first step into the net of Jesus, the step of “repentance” – which is also the first teaching of Jesus (CCC#1989). The Church responds to Jesus by reminding us that the call from Jesus is “personal” for each one of us. It is then our responsibility to be a personal witness within the common mission of spreading the good news (CCC#878).

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Q. 460: Both the first reading (Is 8:23-9:3) and gospel (Matt 4:12-23) make a point of referring to the old tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. What is going on here?

Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman invaders always came from “the north” – meaning they followed the trade routes and river routes. Two of Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali, were apportioned territory west and north of the Sea of Galilee. Therefore, they would be the first to feel the brunt of an attack from an invading force. In fact, when Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Northern Israel around 720 BC, Zebulun and Naphtali were the first tribal lands to fall into the hands of the enemy. Later the Roman army would occupy the territory. Note that this area would include the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum.

But Isaiah prophesies that the “darkness” of oppression would be dispelled by a new “light”; God would deliver his people and remove the “yoke” of the taskmaster from them. Once again there would be joy and rejoicing.

Matthew’s gospel shows that this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The evangelist makes a deliberate connection between the ministry of Jesus and the old Isaian prophecy. Jesus shows that he is the “light” of hope, evident to all through his deeds of power (healing), preaching the Good News (about the arrival of the kingdom of heaven), and calling his first disciples (the apostles). His message is very clear, and has two main elements: Repent because the kingdom is at hand, and Follow him to learn how to spread the Good News and live this new life of love and service. That is the same message for us today, a timeless message that calls for immediate action.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, which is in accordance with Jesus’ first proclamation of the Good News (CCC #1989). Each one of us is called personally to follow him (CCC #878) and share in his mission.

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