Pope Benedict’s homily on Christmas
Pope Benedict’s homily on Christmas
I would like to share a reflection about a christian community, a community of believer. I love to start with this words of Jesus
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mat 18:20)
I believe this is the essence of a Christian community. We are the people who gathered in the name of Jesus. We are the people who have Jesus in our midst. We all love to claim this, isn’t it? Some people mention it in prayer, some people use it in their preaching. Yes, it’s a beautiful reality. But it is much more beautiful as we read through the whole story. What is the whole story?
These words of Jesus are recorded in Matthew 18. The chapter starts with a question by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”, then Jesus took a child with him and said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus starts to speak about those who became a stumbling block for these little ones, ” it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
After that Jesus started to speak about sins, “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” He didn’t stop here, he started to speak about the shepherd who will look after the lost ship, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”
And before He said those words (where two or three are gathered …), he spoke about what should be done when someone sin, and what the church should do, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” He told the disciples that “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” Then Jesus said those words:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
But the story didn’t stop, Peter asked Jesus a question, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And we recall Jesus answer, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” And he started to tell a parable about the wicked servant who does not forgive though he has been forgiven. This parable closes the chapter.
So what is the whole story about? If you notice those words of Jesus is at the middle of the whole conversations. In fact it is sandwiched by two theme. The first one is the prelude just before he mentioned those words. Jesus speak about when someone sin against a brother, and he ends it with the authority of the Church as a community of believers. The second one is Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive when my brother sins against me?”. The beauty is that, the words
there am I in the midst of them.
stood in the midst of those two themes. In the midst between when someone sin against another and how we should forgive, Jesus said, “There am I in the midst of them.” In the midst of who? In the midst of those who gather around him? Yes, but much more. Jesus is even in the midst of those who quarrel. He is in the midst of those who hurts one another where forgiveness is much needed. Jesus in in our midst no matter how broken we are. He is Emmanuel, God is with us.
A People that Forgives
Is this not what we experienced with a Christian community? Some people try hard to find a perfect community. You can guess that it is no avail. To whatever communities we go, there will be some strive, some disagreement, there will be hurt. For some people, it is a sign to run away from the community. For others, they still cling to Jesus words, “there am I in the midst of them.”
How imperfect our Christian community is! And yet, Jesus is in our midst. I believe this is the beautiful truth of our God. He does not choose to stay with the righteous only, no, he chose to stay with us the imperfect. We are the one who create the hurts and the strive. We are the one who create disunity and anger. And yet, our Lord choose to stay in our midst, “there am I in the midst of them.” How humble, how sublime.
In this way, we can start to see what kind of community that our Lord wants us to be. We can start to humble ourselves and listen to his voice. Let us start with the words in the middle:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mat 18:20)
We know that a Christian community is not about numbers but about Jesus in our midst. We don’t strive to increase the number of our community but strive to bring people to gather in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the centre, He is the focal point, our community by itself is not the focal point.
We then realize that what matters is to gather in His name. What does it mean? It means that we gather as a community in the person of Jesus. The name implies the person! We gather as one, as a single organism that is called the body of Christ. It is interesting to read Ratzinger’s book on the Introduction to Christianity. He mentioned that our understanding of the “Real Presence” has changed. In the early days, the real body of Christ is the Church, and the Eucharist is His mystical body. But to defend the truth of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we start to use the term real presence for the Eucharist.
We are the true body of Christ as we gather around His eucharistic table, as we gather in the person of Jesus himself, he formed us into His body.
But from Matthew 18, we also learn that this body of Christ on earth is still in its journey. We are still purified. There will be imperfections. But we know this is what Our Lord desire from his Body: forgiveness. This is what Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive?”, and Jesus said, “seven times seven”, we have to keep on forgiving.
And so this is our Christian community: not that we don’t have any disagreement or hurts, but it is where forgiveness abounds more than any hatred or hurts. Our Christian community is where forgiveness heals the broken hearted. Our Christian community is where we never give up on giving our pardon. Some people break the words forgiveness to two: fore and given. We give even before they ask. This is the love of a Christian community. We are able to do this not because we are such a great person, but because Jesus is in our midsts. He is our healer, He is our forgiveness. And so Jesus told Peter the story of the wicked servants who have been forgiven but do not want to forgive. And to all of us, this is what He said:
and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
Jesus is the one who grant us mercy. A Christian community is when we realize we too have weaknesses, and yet, God loves us still. And we extend this love to others who have weaknesses, and yet God loves them still.
A People Being Purified
Is this all the story about community? No it is not. Before Jesus said those words when two or three are gathered in his name, he speak about when one sin against another. And he told us to correct that person. Correction is part of our Christian community! Unfortunately, this has been lacking in many of Christian communities. We tend to dwell on the affirmation and do not dare to correct those who are wrong. We even get confused of what is right and what is wrong! We tend to say, “well, for different people it is different.” We tend to fall into the trap of relativism. Everything is relative, no one can tell me what to do or what is right or wrong. But these are not Christian community, our Christian community corrects those who are wrong
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
In fact Jesus’s words sound very harsh for those who doesn’t want to be corrected:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Our Christian community is one who is journeying with ongoing conversion. We need to keep on turning to the Lord. And we have the responsibility to help one another in this journey of ongoing conversion. It takes humility to be corrected, but it takes greater love to correct someone. Why does the Lord wants us to correct one another?
So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Because love will search for the stray and bring them back.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
It is this turning back to the flock that we are all called to, maybe because we are all went astray in one time or another. Sometimes, we can go astray from the Lord even though we are still in a community. When we sin, we go astray. But our Lord who forgives us call us back to turn to him.
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Most of us are scandalized with these words! But we know that Jesus is not asking us to amputate our bodies. We know that Jesus is asking us to get rid of all those who causes us to sin. It can be internet, it can be “bad” words from our mouth, it can be our pride, it can be unhealthy relationships, or maybe it can be just as simple as what magazines we read or the movie we watch. What causes us to sin? Do we even aware that we sin? Many people have lost consiousness of sin. Is our community also lost our consiousness of sin? Do we get rid of things that causes us or even our members to sin? Or have we become a stumbling block for others in their journey to be holy?
but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
We are a pilgrim people! In this community of believers we are purified. In this community of believers we learn from one another by their examples of life. The church flourish where the saints and the martyrs are. In our days too, many martyrs exist. Martyrs exist when we choose to follow the Gospel of Life even though their friends will reject them. Martyrs exist when we choose to live a holy lives though that would scandalize the people around us. Martyrs exist even in the office when we choose not to back stab others, when we choose to stand on our values, when we forgive those who back stab us. Martyrs exist at homes when our mothers decide to take care of the children. Martyrs exist in our days.
So this is our Christian community. A people where forgiveness abounds, where we humble enough to repent from our mistakes and to be purified. This is our Christian community, where people put Christ in the centre of their lives. What a demand! But again it is not about what we can be, it is about Jesus who stays in our midst. He is our holiness, he is our forgiveness, He is our everything.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Who is pure enough to see the Church as this Christian community? Who is humble enough to see that our imperfect community is the place where Jesus is in our midst?
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
This is the first few verse in Matthew 18. This is beginning of Jesus discourse when he says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Who is humble enough to turn, to repent, and to be purified? Who is humble enough to forgive? Who is humble enough to see Jesus in our midst? Who is humble enough to enter the kingdom of heaven?
From Wikipedia, it mentions that this theology of prosperity is common among the charismatics and Pentecostal. No wonder Fr. Deshi has a special section on this:
from the book “Could charismatics be truly catholics” (Mungkinkah Karismatik sungguh Katolik?) by Fr. Deshi
my own free translation to English 🙂
[…] What we should fight for is not for people to have more material riches. What we should fight for is our involvement to make a more just world where the difference between the rich and the poor is not huge. This kind of involvement assumes our effort to reform the economic system of the world which tend to profit a few group of people. In othe words, this involvement also means a fight to a system which all this while might have been benefiting. […]
[…] Theology of prosperity in this sense obviously goes against the Catholic Social Teaching, but also against the true spirit of Pentecost that the Apostles experienced. The success of the work of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles experienced after the day of Pentecost lies in the pattern of living together in which they continuously share with each other.
I felt that it is necessary to understadn the catholic social teaching which I have been neglecting in the past. But it seems the world today needs to hear its message even better today.
A nice introduction from wikipedia:
from Office of Social Justice:
The Vatican has also published a compendium on catholic social teaching, maybe I will buy one this Christmas 🙂
by Bishop Victor Hugo Palma Paul of Escuintla, Guatemala for the Synod on the Word of God (October 2008)
Despite their good will, many Christians today fall prey to a false reading of the Bible. Amongst many Christians, an authentic understanding of the Word of God has long been crippled by the sole reliance on Scripture alone and the rejection of Tradition, as advocated since the Protestant Reformation. In this vacuum, amidst our modern culture of materialism, consumerism, and individualism, elements foreign to Christianity have slowly and insidiously been introduced to encourage a false reading of the Bible.
In their fundamentalism, certain pseudo-Christian sects and groups endorse a ‘prosperity gospel’, which in itself is grounded upon a superficial and subjective view of the human individual as the only point of reference. This has led to the use and abuse of the Word of God to promote modern forms of idolatry – money, pleasure, goods, and freedoms are pursued as ends in themselves.
Especially in developing communities where material poverty is widespread, proponents of this ‘prosperity gospel’ sow the seeds of heresy by promoting a false God who appears to be rooted in the Bible but is otherwise anything but Christian. By condemning poverty as a ‘curse’ to be avoided and extolling riches as a ‘blessing’ to be pursued, the ‘prosperity gospel’ misreads and misrepresents the Word of God.
While the need to improve the lives of the poor necessitates the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of social justice, this does not justify the corruption of the Word of God to propagate a particular view of economic prosperity. To remain true to the Word of God, the reading of Scripture must be guided by Tradition to ground our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, who points the way towards solidarity, conversion, and communion.
You can help to sign the petition through this website:
It is organized by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Read the news here:
During the advent retreat we had a chance to write a Christmas card to each other. One of the youths in my group gave me this Christmas card.
It was made by Martin, secondary 1 I guess.
Amazing, he encouraged me to “Own your faith”! Do we?