Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 24, 2010)
You surely noticed that today a second collect was added to that of this Third Sunday after the Epiphany. This second prayer is for the unity of all Christians. This request will be asked of God also in the second secret and second postcommunion of this mass. These prayers are added for a week to the mass daily from the old Feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome to the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, or from January 18 to January 25, feasts of the great apostles of Rome, protectors of the Holy See, of the Pope, successor of the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter.
This week of prayers was begun in the early twentieth century by Pope St. Pius X at the request of an Episcopalian clergyman, who later became Catholic himself. Often these prayers, and even by the 1962 Roman Missal, are called the prayers for the unity of the Church; they are the collect, secret and postcommunion of the Votive Mass for the Unity of the Church, also aptly called the Mass for the Removal of Schism, that is, division of certain Christians, even large groups of Christians, from communion with the successor of St. Peter and the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
If we employ the term “unity of the Church,” we must be careful to understand what we mean, for we have just called the Church One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Church is already One; she is united, she is unique: with or without the Christians separated from her, and even with or without us. Therefore, do not imagine that praying for the unity of the Church means, as many misguided souls do imagine, the collecting of fragmented groups around the least common denominator to form the One Church lost in the divisions. No, the Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the true Church, is already and always has been ONE: unique, unified, united. There is no other and this one is not divided, no matter how many souls fall away. She is the one ark of salvation and the Pope is the captain.
So, when we say “unity of the Church” we mean these prayers are for the unity of all Christians in the one, true Church. We mean the removal of divisions that cause souls not to come aboard the Bark of Peter, the ark of salvation; we mean the removal of schism, or the refusal of submission to Christ’s Vicar on Earth, which is refusal of submission to Christ Himself.
Think of all the baptized souls outside the sheepfold of the Church. They wander in the dangerous wilderness, prey to wolves. Perhaps they imagine they are free, frolicking on the other side of the fence, but how mistaken they are to scorn the safe fence around Rome and to flee the Good Shepherd. Pray for these foolish and lost sheep and the Good Shepherd will go seek them out and bring them back, wherever they are, on His sacred shoulders and tend to their injuries and make them part of the One flock that hears His voice and follows Him wherever He goes.
We live in a Protestant culture, but, though in the world, we must not be part of it. Rather, pray for the conversion of all. God wishes us to do so, and all things are possible to Him.
The leper in today’s gospel had faith in Our Lord’s divinity saying, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Jesus answered him, “I will, be thou made clean,” reaching out and touching him. The man was instantly cleansed of his leprosy. All things are indeed possible to Our Lord and we must never doubt His might. He created us and all that exists and sustains us in our being. It can be for us in our spiritual life as it was for the leper. Mortal sin makes us untouchables, but God’s touching us with the hand of his grace cleanses our soul. Jesus wishes to heal all men of the leprosy of sin and to make us all his obedient and trusting sheep, creatures full of purity and simplicity, who hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him, who run to Him in times of necessity and danger, but not only then, for they seek always to please Him and love to be in His presence.
May we seek to become such sheep rather than embarking on a perilous adventure in the wilderness and darkness outside the safety of the sheepfold. Pray for those wandering and lost souls, for they are not yet lost for good. The Good Shepherd can seek them out and bring them back, but they are in the greatest danger, so pray for them, especially now during this week of prayers for the unity of all Christians in the one, true Church.