An Issue of Loyalty

10 January 2009. Saturday after the Epiphany
1 John 5, 14-21; Psalm 149; John 3, 22-30

The issue in the Gospel today is loyalty. Jesus had been baptized and He was drawing larger crowds to his baptism. John’s disciples were jealous that their former followers had moved to Jesus. And so John reiterated what he said about Jesus: that he was not the Christ, that he was sent before Him, that his work is to call people to repentance for Christ’s coming. He gave an analogy: he was the best man of the bridegroom. At weddings, the best man assisted the groom. Scripture used this image to describe Jesus. Jesus is the groom, and the Church, His bride. Thus, if the Church is Christ’s bride, then we, who are members of the Church, should pin our loyalty to only one. This is our absolute loyalty: solely to Christ and no one else. The rest follows.

Let me give you examples from my personal experiences. First, there are rivalries among choirs in parishes. Choirs compete with each other. Why can’t we see that we are all working together in the ‘vineyard of the Lord’? All those involved in music in liturgy are music ministers. Ministry means that our talents and charisms are used at the service of the community. Therefore, when we choose songs for the liturgy, we consider the people who come to our specific masses. This is called the Pastoral Judgment. Ideally, the choir sings what their specific congregation can sing, so that there is full, active and conscious participation in worship (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium). If the congregation are young people, then the songs should be adapted to them; and if the congregation is made of senior citizens, then perhaps the old songs will be appropriate. So, there is no reason to compete: a choir adapts to their particular massgoers. But there is reason to improve: God and His people deserve quality service. We are all serving the Lord; but serving in different ways.

Second, there is a turf culture among groups and organizations within the Church. They cannot handle another group with almost the same charism. Two charismatic groups will compete with each other. A Philippine parish will have more than 20,000 members, and many of them are not personally ministered to. Why can’t they seek out these members, than compete with those who are already churched? A university within a parish is also the same. Parishes complain that university masses get their parishioners. In the larger picture, there are still others in the parish who still need personal care. Why can’t we seek them out? Or maybe improve on service within one’s territory: there is always a reason why people prefer other masses than ours. On the other hand, university masses minister to university personnel including students, faculty, and alumni. Nevertheless, people have a right to choose the masses they would like to go to. Why can’t we rejoice that there are others who are already working in one area of the Lord’s vineyard?

One of the great privileges I had when I worked in UP was to work with an Opus Dei priest. Fr. Mike Milan would hear confessions for long stretches, which I could not do because of my schedules. The Opus Dei also have a very effective ministry, keeping study centers for many students, which Jesuits here don’t have. They helped a large number of students, and I am glad I was able to compliment their ministry in UP. We were able to work together, contrary to what people think about both of our groups. Eventually, Mike and I and my friends --- others of his group --- remember ourselves in each other’s prayers, especially now. As I transfer to another work, Mike would also be assigned to Indonesia beginning another center there. You see, there are many people who are helped in one way, and there are those who best fit another way. The Opus Dei way, the Jesuit way, the Dominican way, the Benedictine and Franciscan ways with all other myriad of spiritualities all lead to Christ. We should work together because we belong to one Church and the vineyard is vast. There is always work to do. There are always people who need our specific service.

Church leaders should take their cue from John: we are to prepare people for God’s coming to our lives, or to lead them to God. This includes seeking out those who are astray. And there are thousands of them. Why compete with those who are within the fold? The objective is to bring people to the Lord; and we should welcome those who are able to help.

This final example is personal. Many of my students ask me about my attitude towards Catholics who have transfered to another Christian sect, many of them have become born-again Christians. It is true that I am sad that many of my fellow Catholics have found their faith outside of the Catholic church. I am saddened by their transfer because I think it is a result of misconceptions about the teachings of the church. And therefore points to the lack of catechism; thus the fault of many priests. It is our job to teach, and not just to teach, but to teach correctly --- including updating ourselves with new developments. If doctors and engineers update themselves so that they will be excellent in their particular fields, why don’t priests? Admittedly, we are not able to teach sufficiently and effectively. Many transfer to another sect because they have been traumatized by the scandals in the Church or the attitude of many church leaders.

But on the other hand, I have seen these former Catholics greatly changed. They have become more interested in Scripture. I have students who were once very indifferent about religion, now, they carry their bibles and read them regularly. We cannot deny that many of them know their bibles more than Catholics. They have become more interested about faith life. They are now more optimistic about the world. They are not anymore as despairing as others. They have found the kind of worship that best suits them. If they have found Christ in another, then I rejoice with them, at the same time, I am challenged to respond to our neglect.

Perhaps with the Church’s endeavor to dialogue with people of different faith traditions (Interreligious Dialogue) and those within Christianity (Ecumenism), the challenge is to emphasize what unites us, than what divides us. To share what is common among us is to achieve unity and peace. Remember the apostles. Matthew was pro-Roman government while Simon was a Zealot. It would not be difficult to imagine arguments since they were of different political affiliations. But what united them was their love for Jesus. We too can be one because we all love Christ --- to whom we owe our sole loyalty. Jesus must increase, while we --- and all our temporal groups --- should decrease.

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