The reading for Morning Prayer today comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ. It is he who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart. In his own flesh he abolished the law with its commands and precepts, to create in himself one new man from us who had been two and to make peace, reconciling both of us to God in one body through his cross, which put that enmity to death” (Eph 2:13-16).
In the ancient Jewish Temple there were two courts, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. These courts were separated by a low wall. For a Gentile to enter into the Court of the Jews was a violation punishable by death.
St. Paul, a Jew who had persecuted Christians, then converted to Christ and became the Apostle to the Gentiles, is explaining to the Christians in Ephesus that Christ has torn down the wall that separated them according to their ethnic identities. There is no more Jew or Gentile among Christians, for all are one in Christ.
Would that it were so!
Christians, sadly, have too often ignored St. Paul’s admonition of oneness in Christ. We have fallen to the temptation of separating ourselves according to the standards of the world, to what our culture demands. As such, Christians have separated themselves along geographic, national, political, economic, academic, social, racial, and ethnic lines. When France and Germany declared war on each other during World War I, Pope Benedict XV pleaded with the Catholics of both countries to remember that they were brothers and sisters in Christ, and that they ought not be fighting each other. Unfortunately, national interests and pride trumped unity in Christ, and the Catholics of France and Germany fully participated in a war that devastated both countries.
Where is our unity in Christ today? Catholics, no less than our non-Catholic fellow citizens, tend to think of themselves in secular political terms of “conservative” or “liberal”, even on matters related to faith and morals. Too often, Catholics take their cues from their political or secular leaders, rather than consider the teaching of the Church. The Church is regarded as simply one voice among many to consider but, honestly, little consideration is given to what the Church has to say about matters outside what goes on in the parish. Our tradition of separation of Church and State has been taken to the extreme of insisting that our identity as baptized Catholics, our membership in the Body of Christ, our being temples of the Holy Spirit, is to be confined only to our personal lives, to what we do on a Sunday morning for an hour (IF!), or our personal prayers and devotions (again, IF!). We may carry a rosary in our pocket or wear a crucifix around our neck, but do we carry Christ in our hearts and minds and allow Him to form our hearts and minds according to His will? If so, how can we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ because of politics, national origin, social or economic status, academic accomplishments or other worldly measures? Do we actually imagine that Christ cares more that our brother is a Republican or a Democrat than He does that he is a baptized member of the Body of Christ, and that we should treat our brother according to his political affiliation or views rather than as a brother in Christ? It is to Christ we must answer.
Consider another exhortation from St. Paul, this one from his Letter to the Romans:
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 1:1-2).
Back in the 1980’s, when I was living and working at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown Memphis, the government of France had lent to the City of Memphis valuable and historic items for an exhibit on Napoleon. The items were accompanied by representatives of France. One day, when I was alone in the parish office, a middle-aged gentleman came to the door. He didn’t speak a word of English, but by his body language made it clear that he had a desperate need to get inside. Dolt that I was, I interpreted this to mean that he had to use the men’s room, so I showed him where it was. He communicated by his gestures that that was not what he was looking for. I somehow figured out that he wanted to visit the church. He stayed there for a bit, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. When he had finished his visit with our Lord and came out, he hugged me and kissed me on my cheek. I hugged him back and kissed him on his cheek and whispered in his ear (though I knew he couldn’t understand me), “It’s good to have brothers all over the world!” Far from home in a strange country, he knew he could visit the same Lord reserved in the tabernacle of a parish church he had never seen before and would never see again. He knew, too, that I was a member of the same Body of Christ that worshiped that same Lord. That we were from two different countries, spoke two different languages, at two different points in our life mattered not at all. We were subjects of the same King, spoke the same language of faith, and had the same eternal destiny in view. We were one in Christ.
May we who are members of His Body be united to our one baptism, one faith, one Lord. May the divisions and strife that hamper our national political, economic and social progress not infect Christians who are called to form our hearts and minds according to the heart and mind of Christ, that we may discern the will of God in all things and remain united in our love and worship for each other and for Him who has torn down the walls that separate us.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.