Homily of Bishop Joao Rodrigues on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2017
The theme for this Pilgrimage is: “One Body, Many Parts” (1 Cor 12,12).
The Church of Tzaneen Diocese has many parts. For example, we are very conscious of the different Catholic associations or sodalities in our diocese: the Sodality or Association of St Anne, of the Sacred Heart, of the Immaculate Conception, of the Mothers of Hope, of Catholic Women, and of Catholic Men. Each association has its own unique history and gifts and abilities; we even enjoy showing off our differences by wearing different coloured uniforms and flags. As we gather together from the north and south and east and west of the diocese, we are also very conscious that we belong to different cultural traditions and languages. The greatest challenge we have is not so much the fact of this great variety of sodalities and talents and cultures in the diocese but rather the divisions that sometimes take place within the groups themselves as well as divisions between the different groups. But God calls us to be united as “one body” in Christ so that we are able to celebrate our differences, our “many parts” like a choir made up of many different voices but singing in harmony.
When we talk about being “one body,” we are talking about our being united to one another because of a deep personal faith which each one of us has in the same Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Our unity is not based on belonging to the same sodality or the same culture but is based on our personal conversion of life which aims at conforming to the Way of Life revealed by the Lord Jesus Himself. What unites us as a Church is this Way of Life which Christ revealed and calls each one of us to follow.
When we do this we become united to Christ first of all, and, through Him, we become united to one another. For example, if each singer in a choir sings the same song, it does not matter if the singer has a bass voice or a tenor voice or an alto voice or a soprano voice. In fact all these different voices will make the song even more beautiful and pleasing to the ear. Their unity is based on the fact that they are all united to the same song. But if each person sings a different song, it will sound like an ugly horrible noise which our ears will not be able to tolerate. Similarly, when we all follow the same Way of Christ, we become “one body,” harmonious, beautiful and pleasing to behold even though each one of us is gifted with different kinds of gifts or talents, with different cultural roots, with different languages and with different complexions. But if we all follow different ways of behaving, ways which contradict the Way of Christ, our differences will simply turn us into an ugly intolerable and violent people.
By celebrating the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patroness of South Africa, we are reminded of how humble she was in her submission to Christ and how faithfully she followed the Way of Christ in her own life. Today we hear Mary sing: My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1,39). In the Responsorial Psalm of today,(Psalm 45), we get an insight into Mary’s spirit of submission :”Forget your own people and your father’s house, then will the King desire your beauty, he is your Lord, pay homage to Him.” Yes, forget your own people; rather remember who your Lord is, submit to His authority,follow Him, obey Him and then the Lord will desire your beauty and all generations will call you blessed! We are all called to do the same just like Mary did. Being “One body many parts” is not just an empty dream for Believers in Christ. It is indeed a challenging call to which each one of us can respond and experience in this life through the grace of the Holy Spirit. In fact Christ expects us to follow Him in this life, here and now!. It is not something to wish for in the distant future but something each one of us can do right now. The Word of God today emphasizes this: “Now the salvation and the power and kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come. (Revelation 11: 10) Now we belong to Christ and thus united to one another and we remain belonging to Christ “until He has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15: 20-27).
Christ expects us to be faithful, not adulterous people. Christ expects us to be honest, not corrupt thieves. Christ expects us to be truthful, not liars because of his saving grace in our lives. Unity is not possible where there is corruption and lies. It makes no sense to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ and at the same time to behave in ways which contradict the Way of Christ. Unity is not an automatic gift of Christ to his Church We need to understand the sacrifice required from each one of us for this unity to be realized. We need to work on it by repenting from behavior which goes against the spirit of Christ. If we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ can bear witness to being “one body many parts” then there is hope for South Africa, our nation, which is struggling to find a united voice. In the Church,we can show that unity in diversity is not just a dream but a reality in our lives. But if we – the Church of Jesus Christ – fail, then I am afraid there is little hope for South Africa as a whole to ever succeed in this regard. Let us therefore not give up trying. Let us cherish every single effort we make to help advance the Way of Christ in our lives. And while we do this we continue to pray for the conversion of South African people in general and of our leaders in particular because this is our responsibility before God.
Mary, Queen assumed into Heaven, Patroness of South Africa, pray for us.