28Jan 28 January, 2013. (Monday of Week 3 in Ordinary Time)

(This can also be celebrated as the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, with different readings)

Hbr 9:15ff. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice once for all, and so puts an end to the many sacrifices in the temple.

Mk 3:22-30. Jesus does not cast out devils by the power of satan. Only sins against the Spirit cannot be forgiven.

First Reading, Hebrews 9:15, 24-28

For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Gospel: Mark 3:22-30

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The High Cost of Christian Unity

Unity, its cost and its reward, is the centerpiece of today’s readings – so near to the Octave for Christian Unity. According to Hebrews, Jesus unites and finalizes all the temple sacrifices, even the yearly Yom Kippur ceremony, by his one sacrifice on Calvary and his return to the right hand of the heavenly Father. As we read in Second Samuel, David creates a single kingdom out of the rival and jealous groups, the people of southern Judah and those of northern Israel. Finally, Jesus summarizes our thinking in a very practical way, “A household divided its loyalties cannot survive.” The original cost of unity is evident in the Epistle to the Hebrews, for it is through the blood of Jesus, poured out on the cross, that we are united as one single community of faith and united with God in the heavenly Holy of Holies.

In the gospel Jesus puts the cost of unity in terms of a strong loyalty to the Holy Spirit and an unswerving rejection of Satan. In fact, Jesus solemnly warns of the one sin which “will never be forgiven,” namely blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those who sin against the Spirit will “carry the guilt of their sin without end.” Persons who sin against the light, blinding themselves to the evident goodness of others, ascribing the good deeds of others to unworthy motives, closing their heart to the call for compassion and forgiveness – such persons close themselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words, then, there must be a unity and integral wholeness about ourselves: our intellect united with our eyes that see the goodness in others; our intellect united with our memory and so arriving at the solid wisdom of good experience; our intellect united with our flesh and blood and so judging with sympathy and compassion, able to forgive others.

Unity cannot be created by canon law, nor by imperial or papal decree. It must be at one level discovered, as something already implanted in Christ’s Church by the Holy Spirit. Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants are all united by our common adherence to Christ and his Gospel. At another level, unity must be sought and worked for, in a generous spirit of mutual esteem. An ecumenical person will not attribute the good deeds of other churches to pride or to Satan even if some of their ways seem difficult to harmonize with our own ideas. We must show willing to support good causes that work for peace in the larger world of church and society. Our union with others should be precious to us, and motivate us to work not just for selfish advantage but for the common good and shared happiness of all.