Q351: If Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” that shines on in the darkness, why is there so much division even within Christianity?
At the beginning of St. John’s gospel today (Jn 1:1-18) we hear that God the Father sent his only Son to enlighten the world with His truth. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, the risen Jesus reminds his Apostles that he would be with them always, until the end of the age (Mt 28:19-20); and he sent them forth to baptize, teach, and make disciples. But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their place” (see Dei Verbum, #7). The Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warned the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (for example, 2 Thess 2:15). These successors are what we call “The Magisterium,” the official teaching office of the Church, and it is their obligation to continue to hand on and preserve the deposit of faith (“Tradition”) so that believers will not be led away from the fullness of truth.
But over time, some people began to interpret the Holy Scripture in ways that would fit their own private beliefs, even though those private beliefs disagreed with the authentic teaching of The Magisterium. So they began to “break away” from the Tradition, and because of their misinterpretation of scripture and/or misapplication, they no longer possess the “fullness of the truth” that is preserved only in the Catholic Church. This is especially evident in their rejection of the full sacramental system of the Church, and in the teachings on faith and morals. In 2001 the World Christian Encyclopedia listed 33,830 different Christian denominations who have departed from the Tradition preserved since the time of the Apostles! Despite this painful lack of unity, they all have one thing in common, the Holy Scripture (the Bible). So even though on too many occasions scripture is misused or distorted by those outside the Catholic Tradition, everyone without exception agrees on one fact: today we celebrate the birth of our Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world! Let us all rejoice in that astonishing mystery we call the Incarnation, and earnestly pray for the unity which is still lacking within our Christian family.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Let us remember that the “People of God” include our brothers and sisters who do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter (see Lumen Gentium, #15); many elements of sanctification and truth are indeed found in those communities (CCC #819). Since unity subsists in the Catholic Church and is something she can never lose, we must pray and work to rebuild this unity that Jesus desires (CCC #820) – – can there be a better Christmas wish?
A Son is Born to Us
In the liturgical readings of the three Masses for Christmas we celebrate the two births of Jesus: as Son of Mary at Bethlehem and as Son of God from all eternity. The first reading from Isaiah expresses wonder and amazement at what God is doing. The second readings also show the great love God has shown for us in this first Christmas gift. Luke’s Christmas story details the events surrounding the birth of the human Jesus as Son of Mary and therefore as Son of David. All the details of the infant’s birth point to the child as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and the climax of their experience of God. But John’s Gospel at the third Mass focuses on the divine Jesus, the perfect reflection of God the Father. The Word becomes flesh, the untouchable transcendent One reaches out and touches us. God joins our family and shares our experience, our pains and our infirmities, our joys and our sorrows. In Jesus, God teaches us how to become better at being human. Even more wondrous, “God becomes human so that humanity may become divine.” (St. Leo the Great) Christmas celebrates this union of heaven and earth, this connectedness, this communion which is at the heart of Christian faith.
Let us make our own the prayer said by the priest as he mixes water and wine at Mass: O God, in a wonderful way you created and ennobled human nature, and still more wonderfully renewed it. By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of him who chose to share our humanity, Jesus Christ your Son.