Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Separating the Faithful from the Unfaithful

Our Lord intended that His followers should be different in spirit from those who were not His followers. ‘I have taken you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.’ (John 15:19) Though this is the Divine Intent, it is unfortunately true that the line of demarcation between the followers of Christ and those who are not is often blotted out. Instead of black and white, there is only a blur.

-Bishop Fulton Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West


Study after study has demonstrated that the behavior of those who identify themselves as Catholic are really not that much different than non-Catholics. For instance, a poll taken in 2005 by Harris Interactive found that 90 percent of Catholics practice contraception. And according to Reuters, Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church. These statistics may be a little on the high side but they do demonstrate one indisputable truth: The distinction between believers and unbelievers has been blotted out. This has not always been the case. Historically, not only the religious beliefs and practices of Christians set them apart from those of the world, but it was their sexual virtues of chastity and purity that bore witness to Christ’s holiness. There used to exist- at least with more clarity –a line of division and a mark of distinction which set the people of God apart from the world.

The Church’s Mission of Division:

The Church’s mission is to preach the Gospel and prepare souls for eternity. An important part of the ministry of preparation is that the Catholic Church symbolize and anticipate the society of heaven; better known as the kingdom of heaven or the communion of Saints. Salvation, however, is not forced on anyone. In this life each soul has two eternal destinations from which to choose: one with God (heaven) and one without him (hell). It is by no means true that heaven exclusively belongs to card carrying members of the Church; neither is it true that hell exclusively the destiny of non-Catholics of the world. Nevertheless, for two thousand years the Church has symbolized for Christians their heavenly country and the world, taken from its biblical context, prefigured hell; a world without God. St. Augustine referred to these two communities as the City of God and the City of Man. To the degree that the Church inspires her leaders and members to possess a world-renouncing holiness, to that degree will the Church symbolize the Communion of Saints in heaven in contradistinction to the world of spiritual darkness.

The line between the City of God and the City of Man has not been as self-evident in recent decades as it used to. When the line is blurred humanity suffers all the more because of it. And although highlighting this division between these two cities runs counter to what is considered to be socially appropriate discourse among Christians, the necessity of this division remains. St. James said, “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (4:4) The Apostle echoed what our Lord himself said just years earlier: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

Every person baptized into the mysteries of Christ is chosen “out of the world” because Satan, as far as our Lord is concerned, is its ruler. A true follower of Christ, therefore, possesses a two-fold mission. He bears witness to God’s kingdom and in doing so becomes a “sign of contradiction” to the ways of the world. As St. Paul said in no uncertain terms: “For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life.” (II Corinthians 2:15-16)

God’s Mission of Division in Scripture:

This division between the Church and the world did not start with the public ministry of Jesus. To be sure, the first day of creation prophetically anticipated the last day of the world when the sheep (the saved) are to be separated from the goats (unsaved). In the book of Genesis it says that in the beginning God created light. “God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness.” St. Augustine said that this light refers to the angels and darkness, the fallen angels. It was on that day that the angels in heaven and the fallen angels in hell were separated. It was on that day that God drew the line in the sand separating those spirits who loved him apart from those who did not.

Throughout world history the knowledge between God and the devil, between good and evil, between happiness and misery, would prevail as long as that line which distinguished the faithful from the unfaithful was clearly established.

Immediately following their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden where their perfect communion and happiness with God was enjoyed. Upon incurring guilt through sin, the Lord separated the first man and the first woman from Paradise. What began with the division of angels from the fallen angels on the first day, that is, when God separated “light” from “darkness," eventually found its way into the human race. This divine mandate of separation would press forward through the ages.

More on this divine mandate of separation on the next post.

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