E pluribus …

Before the revision of the Holy Week rites by Pope Pius XII in 1955, the Easter fire and the Easter baptismal water used to be blessed in the early morning of Holy Saturday. As part of the blessing of the baptismal water, there was a dramatic gesture when the priest splashed the blessed water in four directions, to the north, south, east and west. This was to represent the universality of the church through the worldwide reach of baptism.

Today's second reading from the Book of Revelation makes a similar point. We have a vision of New Jerusalem with its doorways wide open in the four directions of the earth. This is to show that the grace of Christ is available to everyone through the church. As the baptismal water flows out, new members come in because the church should be a home for all of humanity. We are not a European church or a Middle Eastern church or a South American church but a worldwide church.

In a world of much division, the church is called to be a place of unity where, as in medieval times, people can "leave their swords at the door" (metaphorically today) and be brothers and sisters in Christ. When you reflect on it, the church alone has this capacity to be a place of unity for the world. In fact, the great document on the church from the Second Vatican Council calls the church a "sacrament of unity" for the entire human race. Its doors should be open to the entire human race. What is true of the universal church should, of course, be true of our parish - it should be a place that people of every race and ethnic origin can call home.

The work of unity requires respect for our differences. This is one result of the apostolic conference in Jerusalem described in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. That reading recounts a powerful turning point at the very beginning of the church's life when a compromise was reached that would allow Jewish Christians and gentile Christians to coexist in the same spiritual home.

If we, the family of Jesus Christ, cannot be an example of unity to people, then we certainly cannot be an instrument of unity among people because the efficacy of our evangelization is compromised and even diminished. This is one reason that St. Paul expressed his horror to the Corinthians at the thought of Christians suing one another in civil courts. His argument was that if we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, who have received the Holy Spirit cannot display unity, what does that say about the Gospel we are preaching? St. Paul's point is also valid today. It was said years ago that the most effective sermon a priest preaches is when he is not in the pulpit - that is, by the life he lives. In the pulpit, he is a teacher. Outside the pulpit, he is a witness.

We live in an age when the segmenting, the "slicing and dicing" of people has become a science. Fortunes are made by creating division. Careers have grown from pitting one group against another. Civility is seen as a vice. Our fractured world needs places of unity from which the unifying water of baptism can flow; where the doors of the church are open to all mankind from north, south, east and west; where the Gospel can find a home in all cultures and be the place where the peace for which Jesus prayed in today's Gospel can be found.

The engine of unity is our common baptism and the Holy Spirit. Every parish is called to be a family of faith and a colony of God's kingdom - to show the world the marvelous effects of the Holy Spirit in healing the divisions caused by original sin and to let our unity within the church be hope for the world outside the church. Unity within the church is so important that we pray for it in every Eucharistic prayer at every Mass.

We all know there are differences and divisions in the church. That makes our effort at unity all the more potent. Unity is from Christ. Division is not.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016