He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Love it to Death: Schism in the Church

The Great Schism from which followed the contemporary divisions between the Catholic and Orthodox churches was a tragedy then and now.  The Great Schism known as the Protestant Reformation was an even greater tragedy then and a tragedy of immense proportions now.  While these schisms are notable, the Church is ever breaking as individuals make the choice to stand by her or leave her.  Even today there are schisms chipping away at Church unity.

The contemporary schism does not yet have a name, but we can certainly see it working as people have left the Church over the sex abuse scandals and others have left because they cannot reconcile their belief in the moral goodness of homosexual acts with the Church teaching that proposes that they are intrinsically disordered.  Yet others have left the Church because of those who turned the liturgy into a mediocre consumer product after Vatican II and the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI.  Despite those who leave, many cling to their affection for the Church and see themselves as loyal to the Church despite their disagreements with her.

And I truly believe that they are loyal to the Church insofar as they understand who and what the Church is.  Many of them are primarily loyal to the Church they know, often a Church whose true teachings as they see it reflect their priorities, politics, and even pathologies.  The common thread among those in schism with the Church is that they have imposed their limited understanding of Church teaching on her and have claimed that understanding as the One True Catholic Faith, ensuring that they see many others within the Church as heretics who persist in believing something other than the Catholic faith or at least viewing them as children who need their help to see the light rather than viewing them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The disease is the idea that we as individuals have the right answers and that the Church needs to recognize that we have the right answers; the root of the problem is believing that we do not need to deepen our understanding of the Church, but that she needs to bow to our wisdom.  Instead of recognizing Christ as the bridegroom, we so often place ourselves in that role and play it poorly by trying to browbeat the members of the Church into agreeing with us, practicing something quite different from the servant leadership of Christ in our relationship with her.  I have been guilty of this myself, particularly when I was a younger man, and it seriously hampered my growth in relationship with the Church.  I failed to recognize her wisdom and insisted on my own limited understanding as the arbiter of truth out of youthful pride, not seeing it at the time because my pride blinded me to it.

One of the most pernicious symptoms of this disease is the insistence that if everyone in the Church were simply to do what we wanted them to, then many of the problems would be solved and we would all just be Christians in unity.  This is of course not true because we do not have a full understanding of truth and we are unlikely to see all the correct solutions.  The other fundamental problem with this mentality is that it often does not recognize the legitimate diversity in the Church with the various liturgical rites, devotions, and understandings of doctrine.

My understanding of Catholic doctrine is better than it was last year and it was better then than it had been the year before.  I was no more a heretic last year than I was this year, because in both cases I agreed with all that the Church proclaims, teaches, and believes to be true.  But my understanding is certainly deeper and richer, just as an adult's understanding of physics is deeper and richer than a child's.  The Church's teachings provide a place to enter the Christian life for rationalists and empiricists, mystics and ascetics, and craftsmen and academics.

The Church is home to progressives and conservatives, to the introverted and extroverted, to those who emphasize her grand traditions and those who emphasize her solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. The Church welcomes all who come to her even when they come to her by very different roads. The important thing is not that everyone walk the path we walk, but that we all end up at the same destination, a destination large enough to hold us all if we but rid ourselves of the boulders of pride we push before us.

The solution to discord and disagreement in the Church is healing, and we are healed of the discord and disagreement when we love to death the pride that keeps us from reaching out to learn from our brothers and sisters.  We are healed of our pride when we allow ourselves to learn from those whom we would rather teach and recognize that we are profoundly limited in our own understanding, always leaving open the possibility that we may become more through an awareness that we are often less than we imagine ourselves to be.

The Church will only be united when we emulate Christ so as to be united to Him, and through Him to one another until we meet as brothers and sisters in charity.   I look forward to meeting you all at the destination as He wills it.  May we retain our hope for reunion as the Church is renewed by our love for each other.

The schisms we face will not end when someone wins the theological arguments or gets everyone to agree with their understanding of Church history and teaching.  The Great Schism will not end because all the Patriarchs agree to recognize their brother bishops all over the world.  Schism will be ended when we as a whole people become one body.  If you would have the schism ended, you must love it to death, and do so together with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

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