Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

What God has joined together...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

As a New Year’s present, an Augustinian priest who is a very effective pastor in the archdiocese gave me a book of short readings from St. Augustine for each day of the year. When I was younger, I used to read St. Thomas Aquinas quite regularly, but St. Thomas died when he was only 49 years old. As I grow older, I tend to turn to St. Augustine more often, since he was a monk who became a bishop and died when he was 76 years old, an age I still hope to attain. Both were theologians and saints. Aquinas was a professor in the Middle Ages who continues to instruct the world in every age; Augustine was a pastor in the fifth century who watched the Roman Empire dissolve violently and tried to understand what God was telling us as the ancient world came to an end. As society came apart around him, St. Augustine saw everything put together in the light of faith.

In the reading for Jan. 2, from one of St. Augustine’s sermons, the saint reflects: “Mary gave birth to your Head, and the church gave birth to you. The church too is a mother and virgin — mother because she is made of love, virgin because of the integrity of her faith.”

These are the words of someone who was able to see things whole, to recognize how God keeps things together in our personal lives and in human history. We learn by analyzing and dissecting and separating, but finally all the parts have to be related in order for each to be fully understood. In our life with God, if we separate faith from spirituality, as some believe they can do, we lose both. If we separate Jesus from God, we lose both. If we separate the church, the body of Christ, from Christ himself, we lose both. If we separate God’s life in us from the ministry of the church, we lose our mother in the life of grace.

The church is holy because she possesses and dispenses the gifts Christ gave her: the Gospel, the sacraments, the love that keeps us united to Christ and the Father in the power of the Spirit. The church’s members are sinners who ask constantly for forgiveness; but the true life of the church is defined not by the sins of priests and people but by the gifts Christ gives us to share. Those who use well the gifts of Christ are united with him, sharing in his life here and forever. With Augustine and Aquinas and countless others, they become holy men and women, saints of God. The gift of God’s love in our heart makes it possible to see things as they truly are: not isolated but related and, finally, united.

Each January, we pray for church unity. Because Christ’s disciples are visibly disunited, not fully in relation to one another, the world cannot recognize Christ as its savior. More, the world itself remains disunited because Christians still separated from each other cannot be the leaven in the world that tells human beings that they are brothers and sisters in Christ, not just a human race but a human family.

Pope Benedict XVI, talking to the Roman Curia on Dec. 20, 2010, invoked the Advent prayers that call for the Lord to deliver his people. He said: “They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.”

God has to put together his church so that he can use it as his instrument for saving the world. That was true for Augustine and Aquinas as it is true for us today. The forces of disunity have different historical names from age to age, but they have the same source: human sinfulness. We pray that what God wants joined together, our families, his church and his world, will not continue to be rent asunder. We pray for the gifts of forgiveness and love.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago