SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  3 JOHN1: 5-8; LUKE 18:1-8   ]As Christians, it is our duty to nurture our faith in scripture, doctrines and in spiritual life. Christian formation is necessary not only to strengthen our own faith and spiritual life but for the sake of sharing the love of Christ with others in words and deeds.  Indeed, the goal of an integrated Christian formation in scripture, morality, doctrines and spiritual life is directed at the exercise of pastoral charity and apostolic zeal.

In the first reading, St John praised Gaius for his hospitality towards fellow Christians in accommodating and supporting Christian missionaries.  Although not an apostle or missionary himself, he expressed his apostolic zeal by the exercise of pastoral charity towards his fellow Christians, especially those itinerant preachers of the faith.  Clearly, Gaius had this ecclesial mindedness and he saw the mission of the Church as one.  This was in direct contrast to Diotrephes, one of the leaders of a Christian community, who refused to have anything to do with other spiritual leaders.  He wanted to control the Church by himself and refused to welcome any teacher.  He isolated himself from the rest of the Christian community and built his own kingdom, not the Church of Christ.  He was not a servant but an autocrat!

Why is pastoral charity the goal of all apostolic zeal and work? This is because the Church is called to communion in the Trinity so that she can call others into communion with God.  The Church is the sign and instrument of unity of the human race.  This is the mission of the Church.  All pastoral activities and missionary endeavours are to bring about communion among men through communion with God. This communion is achieved principally through charity, which presupposes justice.

Charity is the primary work of the Church, not justice.  Pope Emeritus Benedict in the encyclical “God is Love” reminds us that justice is the work and responsibility of the government. It is the duty of the state to enact harmonious and fair laws that respect the dignity of the individual, especially the weak and poor and for the good of society. The Church is not responsible for implementing the laws of justice.  Nevertheless if the government, just like the unjust judge in today’s gospel, fails to do its work, it is the moral duty of the Church to be the prophet of justice for the voiceless.  The Church has the moral responsibility to speak out for justice, especially when the rights of the human person or the poor are marginalized or oppressed. If the Church speaks so passionately against injustice, it is because justice is the presupposition for unity.

However, the Church is called to go beyond justice to serve in charity and compassion.  To remain on justice alone is still on the level of human love.  Hence, the scripture readings invite us to extend hospitality first and foremost to fellow Christians, especially teachers of the faith; secondly to other Christians.  This is because our support for missionaries is ultimately for the proclamation of the gospel. In the same vein, it is also inconceivable and a scandal that our fellow Christians need to be supported by non-Christians when we are called to be the sign and instrument of love and unity.  Indeed, it is a scandal to have amongst us Catholics and Christians who are deprived of the basic needs of life.  This is a contradiction to our very essence as a Church of communion and love.

On the level of the Church, we must exercise ecclesial-mindedness.  There is a danger that we can become too myopic in the way we see ourselves.  The parish must be concerned for the diocese and the latter for the universal Church.  There is only one Church of Christ and therefore we must care for each other.   Within the parish, all organizations are inter-related and these must work with the parish for the good of all.  Hence, it would certainly be against Christian charity to favour one group over the other.  We must not see ourselves as competitors but as fellow missionaries for the Lord.  So too, a parish cannot be thinking only of herself, but she must be concerned for the needs of poorer parishes and the diocese at large.  When a group or a movement does not align itself with the rest of the Church, it is in danger of becoming inward-looking and a sect that introduces deviant teachings.  It is for this reason that the Church always underscores that we must all, for the sake of unity, have reverence for the local bishop and strive to work with him; and the bishop in turn must work in collegiality with the rest of the bishops and the Holy Father in the universal Church.

For this to happen, we must begin with ourselves in whichever organization or movement we are in.  Quite often, we tend to draw parameters in service and charity.  We are contented with doing the minimum or what is our responsibility.  Beyond our duty, we would not lift a finger to help.  When we become so parochial minded, then we are certainly not living out the call to pastoral charity.  Indeed, we must exercise more charity towards each other.  Whether in work or service, we must offer fraternal care and support for each other’s needs.  To look after each other beyond the call of duty is to practice pastoral charity, which is our expression of apostolic zeal.  For by caring for our fellow brothers and sisters in their ministry and work, we know that the Church will gain at the end.  If we cannot practise pastoral charity in the parish or organization or in our homes, it is difficult to believe that we have genuine pastoral zeal, since apostolic fervour is the desire that all peoples come to know Christ either through us directly or through our fellow brothers and sisters labouring in the Lord’s harvest.

Due to the presence of sin in the Church, there are occasions when justice and charity are not exercised.    In the gospel, like the widow, we are called to pray to God and trust in His divine providence and mercy. When justice is not being done or seen to be done, or when we feel so helpless in the face of injustices, we can, instead of taking things into our own hands, trust that God will in His own time and in His own way bring about justice and charity in the Church.  It would be a contradiction for those who claim to be speaking for justice and for the good of the Church and society to be so unjust and lacking charity in their attempts to bring about justice.  We must recognize the difference between the area of concern and the area of influence.  So long as we, in all honesty, speak for justice according to the power of influence we have, we would have done our part and our conscience is clear.  To incite others and cause greater disunity in the Church shows a lack of charity and compassion.  Indeed, Jesus reminds us that it is not by our effort alone that will bring about justice and unity, but only through our faith in God.  The question is, “when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”

Let us reflect and pray for the faith of the widow, never giving up hope on anyone or in any situation but persevere in our prayers and faith in God.  We can be confident that He will hear our prayers because He is obviously more than the unjust judge; and genuinely concerned about our welfare and happiness.  God who is our Father will not fail us.  All we need to do is to surrender everything to Him after we have done all we possibly could.  Yes, Jesus assures us, “Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily.”

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore