Reposting in light of the Gospel reading for Sunday, August 18, 2013.
As we can see, the fire of zeal for God necessarily involves the baptism of suffering. This suffering is brought about most acutely by being set apart from family members and friends for doing to the right thing (and doing it alone) or for simply being a serious follower of Christ amid people who are lukewarm in their faith.
In this post, we discover that the mission of the prophets, of Christ himself and the apostles has every bit as much to do with division as it does with unity, with tearing down as it does with building up. You see, the massive blind spot today's Christian is suffering from is that former better secures the latter.
Gospel of Luke:
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Mission of Division: Separating Light from Darkness
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 figures may be slightly exaggerated 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 is the inevitable destiny of non-Catholics of the world. Nevertheless, for two thousand years the Church has symbolized our heavenly country. The world, if we are to use its biblical meaning, prefigures hell; that is, 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 once was. 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, the necessity of this division is, nevertheless, a vital one. 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 who is 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)
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 the darkness, to the fallen angels. It was on that day that the angels in heaven and the fallen angels were separated. It was also 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 of division between the faithful and the unfaithful was clearly established.
Immediately following their disobedience, Adam and Eve were immediately banished from the Garden of Eden. It was there, in the garden, 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. Indeed, this divine mandate of separation would press forward through the ages.
Unity: Not All of it is Good
Even with this biblical precedent, the prevailing tendency among many Christians today is to pursue unity and harmony at all costs. Anything which contradicts or undermines this pursuit is deemed to be "unchristian." However, the Catholic Church never set this up as an end in itself. Unity, as taught by the Church, is consequence of our communion with Christ under the Fatherhood of God. Without this communion, real unity- the kind that benefits mankind –is impossible.
What is too often overlooked is that unity is dependent upon Christ’s mission to divide; that is, separate the unfaithful from the faithful. He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” The ultimate purpose of his sword is to divide and separate the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful. Jesus even warned that this line of division will run right through the family itself (as the Gospel reading above attests). To the extent the sheep are set apart from the goats, to this extent, will the unity among the sheep be strengthened and made visible.
The visibility of Christ gathering his sheep into one fold symbolizes, although not perfectly (because Christ said he has "other" sheep too), the communion of the faithful in heaven. By being set apart from the fold or the City of God, the path to the eternal destinations of heaven and hell is traced out in this earthly life of ours. Indeed, when the people of God are distinct and set apart from the people of world, these two paths are more clearly discerned. To repeat what our Lord said to his disciples: “I have chosen you out of the world.” This divine calling of being set apart has been also traced out in the Old Testament only to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
More Biblical Background:
Throughout biblical history, God frowned upon the indiscriminate unity of good and evil. The reason for this was due to the fact that goodness and truth always suffered loss when intermingled with evil and falsehood. After Adam and Eve disobeyed the divine command in Paradise, as we've said, the Lord cast them out signifying the separation between his holiness and sinful humanity. And this disobedience, from within the human family, would pit brother against brother and tribe against tribe.
The first-born son Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was the patriarch of the unfaithful- of those people who turned their back on God. And Seth, the God-fearing man and the third-born son who replaced Abel, was the one who inherited God’s blessing. The descendants of Cain were known as the “Daughters of Men” and the descendants of Seth were known as the “Sons of God.” In Genesis 6, the Sons of God, the Lord’s chosen, married into the godless race of Cain. This intermarriage and indiscriminate mingling of the faithful and unfaithful was an occasion for widespread moral corruption. With this, the Lord punished the human race by not only flooding the earth but by also withdrawing his Spirit.
Then in Genesis chapter 11, the human race- speaking one language -decided to initiate a great enterprise by constructing the Tower of Babel. Noteworthy, however, was the command given to Noah’s family immediately after exiting the ark to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth; that is, to disperse and migrate. Instead, the descendants of Noah united in one central location in order to make a name for themselves by building the tower. Evidently, God did not look kindly on this enterprise. In fact, he intervened so as to undermine it. Perhaps the following passage from the Canticle of Mary in the Gospel of Luke was a reference to this historic intervention by God: “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.” (1:51) The Tower of Babel was one story out of many in the bible that illustrated God’s displeasure with an indiscriminate unity of the good and the bad, the faithful and the unfaithful.
After the calling of Abraham and the founding of the nation of Israel by Moses, the people of God would have to learn this lesson over and over again. In fact, the fall of King Solomon and the impending collapse of the Kingdom of Israel was due to him marrying hundreds of wives from foreign nations; most of whom worshiped pagan gods. To accommodate them, he ended up building temples to these gods. Throughout the centuries up to the time of Christ the kings of Judah and Israel (originally one nation) struggled mightily with the sin of that wrong kind of unity- the unity of the believers in Yahweh with the people of pagan religions. When the Jews and their leaders failed to set themselves apart from their pagan neighbors they invariably fell into idolatry. The world was steeped further into the shadow of death because of it.
The Cause of Unity:
Although the New Covenant Church under Christ, that is, the Catholic Church, is universal in nature- although it is international in that it excludes no nation, race or class of people, her unity and oneness -nevertheless, this unity is best expressed when the fidelity to all of Christ’s teachings is required to be a Catholic in good standing. The insistence by the Catholic hierarchy that all Catholics be totally faithful to Jesus Christ has been the general standard in the last two thousand years.
If this fidelity is absent and if infidelity and error is tolerated, then St. Paul’s mandate to be one body and one Spirit through one baptism under one Father is all but impossible. This can only be achieved by a unity of faithful believers in belief, word and deed. To repeat, the knowledge between God and the devil, between good and evil, between happiness and misery, will prevail as long as that line which distinguishes the faithful from the unfaithful is clearly established. This pastoral practice, no doubt a difficult one now days, is the best rehearsal for that Day when the Judge of Nations will separate the sheep from the goats.
“Christ came not to bring peace but a sword and that the Kingdom of God comes not by the elimination of conflict but through an increasing opposition and tension between the church and the world. The conflict between the two cities is as old as humanity and must endure until the end of time.
And though the church may meet with ages of prosperity, and her enemies may fail and the powers of the world may submit to her sway, these things are no criterion of success. She wins not by majorities but by martyrs and the cross is her victory.
She has been the guest and the exile, the mistress and the martyr, of nations and civilizations and has survived them all. Viewing history from this standpoint the Christian will not be confident in success or despondent in failure.”
-Christopher Dawson, The Kingdom of God and History 1938