Praying for, focusing on unity in the Church Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison   
Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday we had the opportunity to celebrate a Feast Day which can often pass by unnoticed and under-appreciated by many Catholics.

November 9 is always the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, but for those Catholics who do not attend Mass on a daily basis, the opportunity to hear about this feast only comes about when November 9 is a Sunday.

Importance of feast

However, unlike many other feasts for Saints, this Feast, which marks the dedication of the Pope’s Cathedral Church, is raised by the Church to such importance that the usual Sunday prayers and readings we’d hear this weekend are replaced by those commemorating the dedication. So the Church deems this celebration to be very important — but why?

As we know, the Cathedral Church in any diocese is the sign of all that we believe to be true about our Church; it is a physical sign that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. A Cathedral Church should witness to the unity that is to be found throughout the various parishes and faithful people of a diocese — the unity in truth and the unity in faith, unity of minds, and of hearts.

It should also witness to the holiness of the local community; it should be a worthy temple of God. It should bespeak the universality of the Church, the reality of the Church as being for all people, in all the world, due to the one sacrifice of Christ for all. And finally, it should speak of the reality of our Church as Apostolic, as being so very dependent on the promise and mission Christ gave to his Apostles and the bishops who succeed them.

The Basilica of St. John Lateran (and not St. Peter’s) is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, and therefore serves not only as the sign of unity that exists in that local Church, but also in the whole of the Catholic Church. It is the “mother and head of all churches in the city and in the world (Ecclesia Omnium Urbis et Orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput), and it speaks of the unity that all Christians are called to find by being bound up together in the faith with their bishop, who ties them too to the chief of Apostles, the Pope.

Unity of Church on earth

This is why the “birthday” of the Lateran Basilica is so important to the whole Church; it is a celebration of the unity of the Church here on earth.

Now, even as we celebrate this great feast of unity, let’s not have any illusions that I think our unity is perfect in practice — far from it.

We must recall that anytime we use imagery of the church building or the temple, we are speaking both of the physical structures we erect for the glory of God, and of each of us individually and as a community. As St. Paul reminds us (from the Second Reading of this past Sunday — 1 Cor 3:9C-11, 16-17): “Brothers and Sisters: You are God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.”

The unity which we enjoy is very much dependent upon the cooperation of each of us as components and “according to the grace of God given to me,” upon the work of the diocesan bishop to build up unity. I certainly do not have any illusions that the way in which I carry out my duties as bishop is at all perfect. As Pope Francis reminded us last Wednesday, none of this is what we would have asked for, but Jesus wanted it this way, and so those called to be bishops are called to serve, as humbly and as selflessly as possible (and always more is possible).

Asking for help, work, and prayer

And so, I must be a better servant for all in this diocese, and all of us must work together to build up the unity to which we are called to witness. And I need your help, your work, and your prayer!

Certainly pray for our Holy Father, for me, for your pastors, and all those in your parish. Pray for those who have left our parishes, for those who feel they do not belong, and for those who work to magnify and worsen disunity in the Church.

There are certainly those who do not mind disunity in the Church, and you must have noticed that they’ve been working overtime as of late. The bad news is that they don’t even have to create divisions, the divisions already exist as a result of sin and human weakness. They need only to magnify them, exaggerate them, and publicize them; we as sinful and weak human beings will do the rest.

But be careful about what you read these days regarding disunity in the Church. There have been numerous secular news sources in recent days that have had to run retractions after taking bishops out of context and promoting a sense of disunity, of malice, and of dissent.

Ironically, not least among these retractions was one that the newspaper, USA Today, had to run after they had reported that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was slamming the recent Synod on the Family. In fact, as the paper had to admit later, the Archbishop was criticizing confusion flowing from the Synod — which he said was mostly a result of poor media coverage!

So then, we have our work cut out for us, because in addition to dealing with our own flaws, there are those who are not being particularly helpful. So, how can each of us do our part to build up unity?

Doing our part to build up unity

Each of us can do our own part by first remaining close to Jesus and united to His Church. And the Catechism reminds us what the bonds of unity are: 1) Charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col 3:14),” 2) the profession of one faith received from the Apostles, 3) the common celebration of divine worship, especially the Sacraments, and 4) Apostolic succession.

We build up unity first by attempting, always and everywhere, to put on charity over all things. Love one another, as Christ has loved us! There may be disagreements among us, but we handle them always in a way which seeks the good of the other.

Second, we remain unified by professing the one faith, which has been received from the Apostles and maintained as the Deposit of the Faith. Be mindful of those teachings of the Church which are essential, and even when there is doubt, work to have that “faith seeking understanding,” of which St. Anselm spoke.

Third, we must continue to worship together in a way that fosters unity. This requires that we are constantly mindful of our own failings, and that we seek to find reconciliation through, and for, the worthy reception of the Sacraments.

Finally, we return once again to that theme of Apostolic succession. We recall that no matter how flawed our bishops are (and our priests as their cooperators), that the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the particular gifts promised to the Apostles (and their successors) provide an essential means of maintaining fraternal concord in God’s family. We cannot maintain unity in the Church without remaining united to the bishops, in unity with one another, and the Pope with charity over all, with a firm foundation in the Truths of our faith, and with unity of worship.

So let’s pray for and focus upon unity -- upon oneness of hearts and minds -- and let’s do our part to build up that unity, remaining grounded in the truths of our Faith, in our worship and reception of the Sacraments, in the Apostolic teaching, and -- on top of it all -- in charity.