REFLECTION FOR THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
First: Ezk 33: 7-9;
Second: Rom 13: 8-10;
Gospel: Mt 18: 15-20
THEME OF THE READINGS
On the basis of Vatican Council II, the Catechism presents various symbols of the Church: sheepfold, cultivated field, building of God, temple, family, Mystical Body of Christ, People of God (cf. 753-757). Today’s liturgical celebration introduces one more symbol, the Church as communion. The Gospel text chosen for this Sunday is taken from the so-called ecclesial discourse, whose core is fraternal love. In the first reading, Ezekiel, having been appointed watchman for the People of Israel, feels it is his responsibility to correct the wicked in order to be faithful to his vocation. In addressing the Christians of Rome, Saint Paul has no doubt in asserting peremptorily “Love is the fulfillment of the Law.”
The Church as communion is first and foremost the sacrament of the intimate union of humans with God. This communion with God is the purpose of the Church. In the Gospel, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name [to pray to the Father], there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18: 20). Ezekiel’s voice must resound among the people in order for the wicked to correct their conduct and convert to God (first reading). Therefore, the Church is responsible for inviting individuals to union with God, and all legitimate and effective means must be used to achieve this. There would cease to be communion without this vertical dimension, which emphasizes both the instrumental nature of the Church and its universal vocation (no man or woman is excluded from the Church’s calling to communion with God). The Church must become more conscious of its vocation as an instrument of communion. She does this first of all in relation to her children, to whom she offers God’s Revelation in Jesus Christ and the means to give an adequate and generous response. Secondly, she does this by means of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue with those who are not visible members, two contemporary forms of this ecclesial conscience.
The Church is also a sign and instrument of union among people. The communion with God almost spontaneously leads to fraternal union. It is the union of love, as we are all brothers and sisters in the Faith, but each fulfills their own task. Those who are watchmen and guides express their love by leading, and if necessary, correcting those who have lost their way. The Church as communion compels us to foster union and love, to seek the good of others, to love them and wish them the best. In some circumstances, excommunication may become a requirement of communion, to preserve unity and peace among the faithful. “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector,” Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. In fact, it is not the Church that excommunicates one of its members. Rather it is the individual who freely excludes himself from communion. Indeed, it is well known that the Church has made great efforts to maintain communion whenever positions of dissent arise in connection with essential points of dogma or morality. The Church as communion always opens her arms to welcome the brother or sister to make them part of the ecclesial family once again. The stories in the press that portray the Church as being anchored to its power, closed-in, backward, authoritarian, and an enemy of progress are anachronistic and stereotypical cliches, and as such are not worthy of our attention.
Love is the fulfillment of the law. Each parish is authentic if there is a true love for God and a true mutual love among its members. Each parish must be, before anything else, a visible plan of our love for God and of God’s love for us. The first concern of the parish priest and the parishioners should not be whether the Sunday Mass works well, or that the ceremony of First Communion is perfect. Rather each parishioner should open his or her mind and heart to God, and listen to him in his or her inner conscience. Everything else will follow: assistance during Sunday Mass, the reception of the Sacraments, sincere love for others, charitable actions and solidarity towards the needy, spirit of collaboration, etc.
Fraternal correction. In Christ’s teachings fraternal correction gives concrete shape to the love for one’s brethren. In a diocese, parish, or religious community not everything or everyone will be perfect. There will always be things and attitudes capable of being improved. Fraternal correction finds its raison d’etre here: to respond in the best possible way, as individuals and as a community, to the Christian vocation that we have received. How? It is not the path of malicious gossip, slander, or rebellion, which are certainly far from Christian. The answer to this question allows for many variations, which will all be good if they are carried out with respect, prudence and sincere charity. “Love can cause no harm to your neighbor, and so love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10).