Sunday, January 19, 2020

Fullness of Faith

January 19, 2020 –– 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49:3, 5–6 / Psalm 40 / 1 Corinthians 1:1–3 /  John 1:29–34
Fullness of Faith

Properly understood, every facet of Christian faith interfaces with the others. I became more aware of this in my journey into the Catholic Church; one of the authors who influenced me referred to Catholicism as “a seamless garment.” I became persuaded that the Catholic Church is the “fullness of the Faith” in a tangible form.

What does this have to do with today’s readings? Consider St John’s account of the Baptism of Jesus. It is significant that all four Gospels give an account of the Baptism of Jesus. There is no way to unpack the Baptism of Jesus in one homily (or even a reasonable-length book!). Jesus’ Baptism is the gateway into all that God’s salvation means––one of those “seamless garment” threads.

One facet of God’s salvation (and again, everything interfaces) comes into focus through the second reading in St Paul’s opening words of his first Corinthian letter. There is a key word (usually translated one of two ways from the Greek, hagios): holy or saints. We are called to be holy (or saints). One way to understand the reason for Jesus’ Baptism and one key point that Paul is making in this letter is that God’s intention for us is to be holy––to be saints.

This is not easily assimilated by many people and is one way to see why the fulness of the Church is so important. The default popular understanding of saint in the Catholic tradition is a person who has been canonically sanctioned as having fully completed the transformation of being made holy. This, in turn, affects the way many Catholics often respond (or react) to the word holy––they think it is unapproachable. But being a saint is broader than the declaration of canonical perfection; there is an application of being holy that it is for every one of us.

As Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians he reinforces their identity and formation. Something has happened to them to make them who they are: the gathered people of God. Paul says he is writing to the church of God that is in Corinth. He is not writing to all the people in Corinth. There is a distinctive demarcation. It is rooted in Christian identity. How do we see ourselves? Is our connection with God the most significant part of our self-understanding? Beyond anything else, we are Christians. This is where Paul begins his letter.

How is it that these people were part of God's church? The remainder of the letter shows they are far from having arrived at holiness in their present setting. But…. they have been sanctified. This essentially means they have been “set apart”––they now belong to God.

Paul, speaking through the Holy Spirit, also tells the Corinthians (and us!) they were called to be holy (or to be saints). Here it is good to see that holy means "different." One way to be holy is to be distinctive––different for Jesus’ sake.

How is such a thing possible? There is another thing about the Christians Paul addresses: they have a foundation. They have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. They are among others from all over who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. God's grace has been given to them in Christ Jesus. Christianity is Jesus Christ.

Jesus always has the priority. We did not choose him; he chose us. That is always the starting point for the way we understand ourselves and the Church. No individual person nor single congregation stands alone before God. There is a wonderful prayer in the Liturgy that draws us into this mystery of holiness as we prepare to receive the Eucharist. After we pray the Our Father the priest intercedes with these words: look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church…. The Church is a people who are called of God and in Jesus Christ into the great work of salvation that God is doing through his people. Jesus’ Baptism was the initiating expression of that.

We are being called into identity with Jesus. What he did––his Baptism, Passion, Death, and Resurrection––he did for us. And when we follow him into those things we are sanctified––set apart, belonging to God. That, in turn, makes us holy.

Some years ago the Army had a commercial that was so good I wish they had not used it. It should belong to the Church. You may remember it: Be all that you can be. In the Church, whether it was in Corinth so long ago or whether it’s here in our own parish, being all we can be is a lot because it is not all up to us. It is up to the one who calls us.... who sets us apart.... who helps us to be different.... who gives us his gifts.... who promises us his kingdom. 

Remember who you are. You who have followed Jesus in Baptism have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. You are called to be holy––a saint. Believe it, and invite the power of the Holy Spirit to make you be all that you can be.

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