One of the things that I always thank God for is the fraternal love and unity among the staff in my office,where there is mutual respect, consideration and the willingness to help each other, regardless of rank and responsibilities. We have achieved a level of unity that is not found in many places. Indeed, unity and love is all that we desire wherever we are, whether in our family, office or church.
This is the joy that Jesus came to share with us. He prayed, “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.” The joy of a Christian is to share in the Trinitarian life of God, the intense relationship between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. We are called to share in their life so that we can also live like the Holy Trinity among our fellow human beings in our relationships with each other. Truly, sharing the Trinitarian life is what brings us joy to the full. “And while still in the world I say these things to share my joy with them to the full.”
The family spirit in the Archbishop’s office however cannot be taken for granted. We remain sinners and we are weak. The unity is always fragile and sometimes sins will have the better of us. For this reason, the scripture readings of today urge us to be on guard. Even Jesus was realistic about the future of the community He established. St Paul too, before he left Ephesus, was aware of the divisions and challenges of the newfound churches. He told them, “I know quite well that when I have gone fierce wolves will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock.” Who are our enemies that we need to be on guard against?
He warned them about the enemies that will come from without, from the world that opposes the truth and the gospel. “I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world.” So we should not be surprised if the world opposes us and the truths of the gospel we proclaim. Without doubt the values given to us by Christ will not be accepted by the world, that is, those who are not ready to seek the truth.
But the real enemy is not from without but from within. When you have a mole in the community, the whole community can be destroyed like the yeast in the flour. Conscious of the conflicts within the Christian community, St Paul warned the elders of the Church of Ephesus, “Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce the disciples to follow them.” How true this is, even in our communities, offices and home. Most of the problems we face are internal problems, conflicts, misunderstandings, competition, ambition and the desire for power and glory. The sins of pride, envy, greed, sloth and anger hold us bondage. Jesus hinted about this truth as well. He said of Judas, “I kept those you had given me true to your name. I have watched over them and not one is lost except the one who chose to be lost, and this was to fulfill the scriptures.”
Yet, the greatest of all enemies from within is ourselves! This is because sin always begins with the individual. We could be blinded from the truth ourselves and thus judge wrongly and mislead others. We can even be malicious because of fear, pride and envy. This is why Jesus prayed for protection of His disciples. This protection is not just from external enemies but internal enemies as well. He said, “I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”
How, then, can we be protected from our enemies, both from within and without? Firstly, Jesus prayed that they be consecrated in the truth. “Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.” Truly, it is the lack of truth in ourselves that cause the community to be divided. We misjudge others. We are presumptuous and judgmental. Instead of seeking clarification we draw conclusions based on our fears and envy. And the worst thing is that we gossip and spread lies, causing the whole community to be divided. So we need to make sure that we are in the truth individually before we can proclaim the truth.
Where is this truth to be found if not the Word of God! Jesus said, “Your word is truth!” We need to be imbued with the Word of God and the gospel that has been transmitted to us by the apostles. St Paul said, “And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace that has power to build you up and to give you your inheritance among all the sanctified.” Only the Word of God can lead us into the fullness of truth and have the power to build us up. Love for the Word of God and a prayerful reading and sharing of the Word of God in the community is the key to fostering unity and love. Without contemplation of the Word of God and sharing the Word among members of a community, the devil will sow his seeds of envy and mistrust, causing disunity.
Secondly, we are called to walk the truth. Truth is not a word but an event. St Paul himself showed us the way when he said, “I have never asked anyone for money or clothes; you know for yourselves that the work I did earned enough to meet my needs and those of my companions. I did this to show you that is how we must exert ourselves to support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’” We must take steps to promote unity through sharing and acts of love and humble service to each other. By giving ourselves to each other generously as St Paul did, we will win the trust and confidence of others. It is for this reason that we make time for bonding, whether at meals or in celebration or in prayer. We must outdo each other in love and service and generosity.
Thirdly, we must find inspiration from those who walked before us. St Paul reminds us that if we are appointed leaders, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. He said, “Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood.” When we think of how the Church was established by the blood of the martyrs and especially the blood of Christ, we should be grateful by protecting what the Lord has won for us. St Paul loved the Church so much that he would do anything for the love of Christ and His flock. “So be on your guard, remembering how night and day for three years I never failed to keep you right, shedding tears over each one of you.” By recalling what our Lord and the Christians did before us, we too must walk that path.
Finally and above all, we must pray. The family that prays together stays together. St Paul himself prayed for the Christians at Ephesus. “When he had finished speaking he knelt down with them all and prayed.” Jesus, before He departed from this world, also prayed to the Heavenly Father to protect His flock. Only in prayer can we overcome disunity. This is why we must always pray as a community. Otherwise, when divisions set in, it will be too late. The best way to defend ourselves from the lies that the Evil One sows in our family and office is through prayer and the Word of God and the Eucharist. Let us therefore always make time for prayer, no matter how busy we are. Otherwise, all the work we do will be in vain because we exhaust our time and energy fighting fire within and without, settling conflicts and disagreements instead of expending on our work. We must ensure that this will never happen in our communities. In this way, the prayer of Jesus for the unity of the Church will be realized in our midst as we work together for the coming of His kingdom. And most of all, to know that our Lord is glorified in us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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