Roman Catholic

27 January 2008 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1, 10-17; Matthew 4, 12-23 Being Roman Catholic

Note: This is homily 2, which I think is better.

St. Paul in the 2nd Reading calls for unity in the midst of division. He encourages every disciple of Christ to be “united in the same mind and in the same purpose”. He said that we are made one by our love for Christ. The Gospel tells us about Jesus who called specific people from different backgrounds to be his closest friends. These apostles were an odd mixture: Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen; Simon was a Zealot, who were against the Roman occupation of Israel while Matthew, a tax collector, was pro-administration. It is not difficult for us to imagine disputes and disagreements among Jesus’ disciples. But what brought them together was their love of Christ. The early Christian communities were reminded to keep both together: diversity and unity. Some would even say, unity in diversity.

Today, we shall use two words that describes our identity: Roman Catholics. Roman will describe our particular identity; thus a point of gathering. By being Roman, we are distinguished from our Eastern brothers and sisters who also belong to the Catholic Church. By being Roman, we flow from the Western or Latin tradition that the Spaniards passed on to us centuries ago, though we belong clearly to the East. It is our particular characteristics. And thus, we are united by our Roman liturgy and tradition.

The word, Catholic, will describe our acceptance of those who are different from us; an acceptance of the diversity of people and culture. It is being Catholic, being universal, that describes our vision and outlook. We are forever reaching out to people who are different from our religion, from our form of worship, from our beliefs. We are always accepting those who are ‘strangers’ into our fold. Like Jesus gathering his disciples from different background and personalities. And loving them altogether; and telling them to be ‘Catholic’ --- to tell the Good News to all nations, gathering all peoples from all walks of life.

But being Roman Catholic has always been part of our history. When we started off to become a small Jewish sect of Jesus of Nazareth, we would again lose our identity, to accept the Gentiles. The 1st Council of Jerusalem with Peter and James with the Jewish community and Paul testifying the presence of Christ in the Gentiles, decided to expand into a universal Church. Three hundred years later, when we were accustomed to be the main religion of Rome, to be Roman, we were again called to expand and include the barbarians. In the Philippines during the Spanish time, the Spaniards gathered around the mass in Spanish. And just as they were at home with the Spanish mass, when the natives joined them, challenging them to open the doors to Filipinos whom they were colonizing, who were now Catholics, who were also their brothers and sisters. And just as we were comfortable with the Latin mass, when we were challenged again to accept the mass in the vernacular in 1965.

And just as we are now comfortable with the mass of today, we are now challenged to accept into the fold many people who find themselves alienated from the Church. Do we speak about the roles of women, those who are divorced and single parents, those who are gay, those who are struggling with love, the sick and the dying, or the young who lives in a different culture and technology. Often, we do not want to speak about them, because we are afraid that we may be involved in controversy, or we may find oursleves accused by many narrow-minded people of rocking the boat. But this is what it means to be Roman Catholic. Like breathing: we inhale and gather the air into our body of faith as being Roman; and we exhale as we reach out to others as being Catholic. Only when we inhale and exhale that we live; as only when we become Roman and Catholic, that our Church becomes alive, rich and dynamic.

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