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February 7, 2016 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

St Paul is worried about divisions in the Christian community in Corinth. Divisions are always a threat to the Church, even today. Every week, more or less, you can read in the news reports about groups who call themselves Catholic but go around having press conferences in which they disagree with Catholic teaching.

Jesus knew divisions would be a problem; the human factor (that is, our fallen human nature) makes it hard for us to stay united. 

And he gave us an instrument of unity: the Church's Magisterium, the teaching authority that Christ gave to Peter and the Apostles. Paul appeals to this teaching authority and unbroken tradition to solve the dissension that's tearing apart the community in Corinth: "the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you..." "what matters is that I preach what they [the Apostles] preach, and this is what you all believed."

Jesus didn't just leave us a book to guide the Church - books need interpretation. He left us Peter and the other Apostles. They spread his message in the first Christian generation, and they appointed successors who, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit, continued the tradition. That Apostolic Succession has lasted to our own day. That is how we know that what we believe is the true gospel, the same one St Paul preached to the Corinthians.

What we believe about who Christ is and how to follow him doesn't change like a political platform.  It is not a buffet of doctrines that we can choose from depending on what we like or dislike. How could the Church stay united if that were the case? Would being a Christian mean anything at all if everyone just invented their own custom-tailored Christ?

Critics of the Catholic Church say that because we follow what the Pope teaches, we don't think for ourselves. They criticize Catholicism for cramping human freedom.

Just the opposite is the case. We are freer than anyone else, precisely because we know what we're here for, who created us and why, where we're going, and how to get there. Who is freer to play the piano, the kid who pounds out notes on a whim, or the one who has taken lessons for many years, learned the scales and the harmonies, learned how to read music, and trained his fingers to move over the keyboard effortlessly? Who is freer to go faster and farther, the traveler who has a map and a compass and a destination, or the aimless wanderer? Which is freer to arrive safely to harbor, the boat guided by a lighthouse, or the boat guided merely by the moods and wits of its captain? Who is freer to enjoy a healthy life, the person who knows the laws of nutrition and follows them, or the couch potato who just eats what he feels like whenever he feels like it?

God has given us a great gift by giving us a Church that teaches the truth about faith and morals with his own unerring authority: we have specific reference points that we can refer to in order to advance.

If you want to climb a mountain, you have to find firm handholds and footholds, otherwise you'll never get anywhere. The teachings of the Church are like our handholds and footholds; they free us to move forward securely in the adventure of life.

One way that we can cherish and embrace this gift is by committing ourselves to ongoing formation in our faith.

 
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