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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Focus on Christ to get beyond division

Paul’s message to the Corinthians can inspire our unity

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Well, this is providential.

We celebrate the feast of St. Louis, King of France on Aug. 25. And on the feast day, we begin to read St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians — we’ll continue to read it for three more weeks.

One of the principal themes of 1st Corinthians is divisions within the community. Some claim to belong to Paul; others claim to belong to Apollos; still others claim to belong to Peter.

To all of this Paul says very clearly: No! All of us belong, first and foremost, to Jesus Christ. Paul’s opening greeting in the letter mentions the name of Jesus Christ nine times! He then mentions it once more — bringing it up to the symbolic 10 times — before turning to the problem: “It has been reported to me that there are rivalries among you.”

In other words, even before naming the problem, he presents the solution: everyone who proclaims the Gospel and works for the Gospel — Paul, Apollos, Peter and anyone else — points to Jesus, not to themselves. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Paul did a great deal of work in the community. Still, he knew that, like John the Baptist, he had to step back to keep the emphasis on Christ.

Why is it providential that the feast day and the reading go together? Because, on the patronal feast of the archdiocese, St. Paul is describing a key aspect of the situation facing us as we go through All Things New. Through the decades, we’ve done a great job promoting parish and school identity. And I can say without hesitation: that has been good in many ways.

At the same time, parish and school identity have sometimes been promoted to the point of unhealthy rivalry. Like the Corinthians, we need to ask ourselves: to whom do we really belong?

As things shift in the coming years we have two options. If we cling to our rivalries, we can only end up weaker in the midst of change. If we identify with a particular parish — “I belong to St. X” or “I belong to St. Y” — we run the risk of losing our identity. If we cling to the real source of our life and unity — Jesus Christ — then we will end up stronger because our core identity will not change when other things do.

Everything that our parishes and schools do — or are supposed to do — points to Jesus, not to ourselves. If we’ve forgotten that, we need to hear St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians!

This week we also celebrate the Queenship of Mary (Aug. 22). She is the queen of all of us, because Jesus is the king of all of us. (In the ancient world, the queen was the king’s mother, not his wife. This was because the king might have many wives, but only one mother.) Let’s pray that, in the midst of rivalry and change, Mary will help us the same way St. Paul helped the Corinthians: to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.

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