23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 18: 15-20
When we were baptised we were incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church. Before our incorporation into the Church, we were like lifeless twigs which were grafted into the living Body of Christ that made it possible for us to participate in the divine life of God.
In the gospel this Sunday, we have a glimpse on the role of the primitive Church in terms of 1) fraternal correction; 2) the authority and responsibility bestowed on the Church; and 3) the power of fellowship and prayer of its members. The picture may be primitive but it is still the same reality we have today. The early Christian Church certainly has evolved from its humble Jewish beginnings to one of the most powerful institutions in human history. Nonetheless, in all its wealth, glory and grandeur its essence remains the same: as the community of the disciples of Jesus Christ. And because it is composed of sinful members like us, it continues to struggle to transcend herself to rise above human limitations and weaknesses through the mercy of God. 1) Fraternal correction is the way towards the reconciliation of the members of the community. The Church is empowered to mediate in case of extreme difficulties beyond the power of the individual members.
2) Because the Church represents the corporeal and spiritual presence of Christ on earth, it is also empowered with authority and responsibility towards its members. This is expressed in the Sacraments that we celebrate! The rituals of the Sacraments represent the action of the whole Body of Christ celebrating and conferring grace. So it is not mere human actions that we see but rather Christ as the Head acting through the ministers duly ordained who act on behalf of Christ. The priest celebrating mass, giving absolution during confession, doing baptism, anointing the sick, etc. are all the actions of Christ. No matter how unworthy the priests are, the sacramental actions done are never his personal doing that is why we follow the prescribed rituals and formulas in order for the grace to take effect in the celebration (ex opere operato). This is the Church working at its best when it does not consider the disposition of the priest nor the participants to effect grace, hence the "binding force" coming from Christ the Head.
3) The Church is also a community of believers gathered to celebrate communion and intercession: "where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ", the whole Body is present! There is a bond that connects all the members just like all parts of the physical body are all connected as a living organism. There is an inherent spiritual power that binds all members to each other that is why we are all inter-connected spiritually. The prayers of the members effect the whole Body! This is the power of the intercession of the Church.
So where do we find ourselves in this complex reality of the Church? Let us evaluate the family as the domestic church: How do we witness our faith inside our homes? Let us see how we participate in the local church which is our diocese and our parish. Do we ever participate in the programs of our parish? The ekklesia in the gospel today becomes alive when the community is 1) forgiven and forgiving 2) nourished through the care of our faithful and dedicated shepherds and 3) strengthened by each other’s prayer and empowered as God’s People.
There are those who believe that their faith is between them and God; it is partially true. We need to celebrate that faith with the Christian community because our relationship with God has an ecclesial dimension and this is where fellowship becomes imperative. We have to gather together as a Church because it is where we form a communion with each other as we become catalysts of change in the world we live in. When we do this, the Church is truly a living organism which is relevant to the present time.