I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. – John 17:20-21
Jesus’ prayer for unity is popularly understood in an ecumenical context; however, the scandal of disunity is also present within the Church. In his General Audience last week, Pope Francis spoke of divisions within the Christian community, the Church. “Let us consider not only the schisms, let us consider the very common lapses in our communities, ‘parochial’ sins, those sins in the parishes. Sometimes, in fact, our parishes, called to be places of sharing and communion, are sadly marred by envy, jealousy, antipathy…. and gossip which everyone passes on.”
“In a Christian community,” the Holy Father continued, “division is one of the gravest sins because it makes it a sign not of God’s work, but of the devil’s work, who is by definition the one who separates, who destroys relationships, who insinuates prejudice. Division in a Christian community, whether in a school, a parish, or an association, is a very grave sin, because it is the work of the devil.”
Our immediate reaction might very well be, “yes, see how they are dividing the Church,” pointing a verbal finger at those whose theology or worldview is different from ours. Of course, we are all certain that we hold the right opinion. It is so easy to slip into self-righteousness, like the Pharisee who looked at the prayerful publican and thought to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector” Luke 18:11.
We are quick to judge others and slow to examine our own actions. Polarization in the Church today is a major scandal because it obscures rather than proclaims the Gospel of Jesus. Concluding his remarks, the Pope added, “Let these words of Jesus resound in our hearts: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’” (Mt 5:9). Let us ask sincerely for forgiveness for all the times in which we have caused division or misunderstanding within our communities, knowing well that communion is not achieved except through constant conversion… asking the Lord for the grace not to speak ill, not to criticize, not to gossip, to love everyone. It is a grace which the Lord gives us.”
Image Credit: “Crack”, Luke Nadeu on Flickr