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Let’s talk about the importance of community today. Let’s reflect deeper on the significance of building up the community of faith. Let’s consider how being members of Christ’s mystical body invites us to remind each other that the joy of the Lord is our strength. To understand this means to work together against things that isolate us or things that hinder our being Christ-like at a time like this. Think about today’s readings with this mindset. They communicate a fundamental message about faith. Being believers and followers of Jesus speaks to who we are. Faith touches on our identity not just about what or how we feel. The first reading presents this image, the people gather as a community to listen to God’s word. Between the king Nehemiah and the priest Ezra at the time, the word of God is read aloud for the people to hear. After the proclamation, the priest interprets the message to them. The reasons for weeping are not clearly explained in that scripture passage, but obviously, the priest responds with a message of hope. Ezra reminds them to remain focused on God, else they are filled with dissipation.

The role of the priest Ezra can be likened to that of Christ in the gospel as he inaugurates his mission. Just as Ezra reads from the Book, Christ reads from the scroll for the community. Christ invites the people to understand the newness of God in their midst. Christ’s mission is to free humanity from captivity, to bring restoration, healing, and freedom for those in bondage. This mission is being fulfilled in Christ the Word of the Father. He does not just read from the scroll; he fulfills the Scripture passage in their hearing. Christ brings hope and inaugurates a community of believers.

Thinking of this message in our time, we need to review our faith commitment. How can we embrace God and build a community through baptism? The bond of baptism should be the strongest for believers, first, with God, then, with one another. This sacramental bond is unique, for which Saint Paul writes in the second reading, “in one spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” Listen to this, it does not matter if you have any other affiliation in this world, the affiliation with God in Christ through your baptism remains the most fundamental and most unique. Paul’s analogy of the parts of the body and their unity in diversity describes the strength of the sacramental bond, the strength of the community. Sadly, Christians don’t seem to realize this enough and for that reason, we let attachment to mundane things split our fellowship. Each of us represents these different parts, the hand, the eye, the head, the feet, and so on, within the church. It does not matter which part of the body each of us symbolizes. What matters is that we are significantly grafted in Christ and that we should function for the building of this body. We should support, encourage, inspire, and help each other to realize the joy of the Lord in their lives.

Through our catechism, we receive two effects from our baptism -cleansing and bonding. First, we are cleansed from original sin. Christ speaks about this in the gospel when he declares his mission to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. The greatest freedom is deliverance from the bondage of sin through baptism. This is fundamental to our being. The goal of baptism is to set us free, to give us the courage to face challenges. This means we are technically no longer slaves of fear, anxiety, and any negative forces that threaten us. But do we understand this? We belong to God, nothing less than that. Although the world pulls us into irrational and evil forces, God’s grace strengthens us. It is the strength in Christ that makes us resilient. Sufferings will not disappear but being and working as a community can provide support in our faith. It is hard, but that is who we are. God wants us to find joy in Him and to be sources of joy to one another. Are you able to strengthen those who share the same faith with you? Are you a source of joy for your fellow catholic because you share the same identity and beliefs? Are you able to provide joy amidst sorrows?

We can pause for a moment and feel with those going through difficult and challenging times at this moment. Such things are real. For people of faith going through pains, hurt, fears, losses, and varying degrees of suffering, we connect with you at this moment to tell you not to be afraid, to remind you that the joy of the Lord remains your strength. You are not alone. Your families are not alone. We are united with you through the spirit of Christ in baptism that we share. The fact is that sometimes, we pray for things to get better, yet it is as if our prayers are not answered. We suffer. We lose loved ones to death. We get sick. We experience betrayals. Yes, these happen. But one thing still challenges us, those who go through these experiences reach out to request one thing from us: prayer. Doesn’t that strike you as something powerful and unique?

Maybe take the time to ask yourself why of all things, people ask us to pray for them? The answer is that they understand that the most unique and the greatest bond which we share is through baptism. They identify the greatest source of meaning in life, their faith. That is the second sacramental effect of baptism, we are brought into the community of God’s family and share the bond as sons and daughters in Christ Jesus. This is huge. Our sacramental bond is beyond any political, philosophical, or ideological connection, and we must realize it. Our quest for spiritual food, our desire for the sacraments, is not a satisfaction of mere emotions and feelings. It is fundamental to us.

For anyone who has been in counseling for either anxiety, trauma, depression, or other mental health problems, it makes a difference when faith and spirituality are incorporated as sources for healing, stability, and recovery primarily because they touch on who we are. We are encouraged to get back into the community where we can feel God’s love and the support of our members. Again, I wish to challenge you to think deeper about this today: why does a member who is sick reach out to ask for our prayers? Why do families of sick members of our community request for a priest to anoint them? Why would a grieving family reach out to the church to ask for a funeral Mass and for prayers? Why would a person going through difficulty ask for spiritual support? The answer is that finding meaning in their struggles is embedded in the community spirit, the mystical body of Christ which unites us through baptism.

Therefore, rejoicing in the Lord is your strength. We must return to the meaning of community. Can we just be there to tell each other that the joy of the Lord is their strength? Can we be there to read the word of God, to join in prayers, to bring the comfort of Jesus, to speak the words of hope, of peace, of joy? Can we bring the message of freedom to those who are in need? I believe we can help to reduce the growing rate of anxiety if we authentically live out our Christian identity for the other person. God has sent us into this world as his prophets, his apostles, his teachers to bring sight to those blinded by fear, hope to those who lack understanding of God’s presence in their lives. We can bring healing, comfort, courage, and peace by living in fellowship through our baptismal commitment within the community.

Readings: 1st- Neh. 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Gospel- Lk. 1:1-4, 4:14-21

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