Thursday in the Thirty-Second Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 27:35-36; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24

The Seamless Garment: The Unity of the Church

One of the great tragedies of Church history, and of Church contemporary, is that we are so divided.  We are divided into three main branches: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, and within those three are other divisions, the most prolific belonging to the Protestant.  I suppose given two-thousand years of history and being spread all over the planet into different cultures, such divisions are not surprising and perhaps expected.  And I don’t want to make the argument that unity must be organic to be true unity; that is, I can pray with both Catholic and Orthodox, and frankly with anyone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully human and divine, who came and died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our justification, and who understands that Scripture means what it says and says what it means concerning doctrine and morals, that they are in no way dependent upon the time in which we live.  This is what I call unity in the truth, and outside of the truth there is no unity.  If I must choose between unity and truth, I will side with truth every time, which I suppose makes me a Protestant.

At the same time, our Lord specifically prayed “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me…” (John 17:23).  In today’s passage, we are told that the soldiers divided our Lord’s garments among themselves, scavengers that they were.  But the tunic of our Lord was seamless, and they did not want to tear it.  So they cast lots to see who would get it, fulfilling Psalm 22:18.  The Catholic Church has an ancient tradition that the seamless garment represents the unity of the Church that was not and cannot be divided.  In most cases, they have applied this understanding to themselves as the one true church.  With that application, I cannot agree.  But with the meaning and beauty of the symbol, I do agree, and cannot but apply it to that one, holy, universal, and apostolic Church which our Lord purchased with his own blood, which cannot be torn from him, as she is his body and he is her head (Ephesians 1:22-23).  And in agreement with the ancient formula, he who has not this Church for his Mother has not God for his Father, for no one can be separated from the one body of that one head and live.

It was for his Church that Christ came, died, and rose again, and thereby, redeemed.  As we read in his “Priestly Prayer” of John 17:20-26 just before his passion, he looked ahead and saw his Bride and prayed for her.  And he’s coming again to take her away (Revelation 19:6-8).  So it is very fitting that the seamless robe should signify his one and only Bride, the Church.

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