3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time — “Let There Be No Divisions Among You!”

“I urge you brothers and sisters…that there be no divisions among you!”

Thus St. Paul issues one of his most difficult challenges to the Christians of his time and to the Christians of all times. In St. Paul’s day, the biggest internal division was between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, and often focused around the different answers being given to the basic question: just how Jewish do you have to be in order to be a Christian? Not long after, the Arian crisis began, with Christians divided and actually persecuting each other over how to answer the question: is Jesus true God? From then until now division has been part of the picture—not because the Lord wills it but because of our fallen nature.  This should come as no surprise because the first division that happens right after the expulsion from the Garden is one brother kills another.

In our own time we can experience many divisions, even as members of the Church. Sometimes the division is over things that people can legitimately disagree concerning, such as immigration, the death penalty, the most equitable economic system, etc.  Sometimes it is over things that the Church has formally taught and that are non-negotiable but people are still divided over, such as abortion. Sometimes the division is not about whether something is right or wrong, but more about how to deal with the practical ramifications of it, such as same-sex attraction issues.

How are we called to respond to this?  The Acts of the Apostles gives us a great example of how not to respond, when, as Luke records in Acts 15, St.  Paul and St. Barnabas part company after a violent argument.  On some level I suppose it is reassuring that even these great Saints could occasionally demonstrate their ‘clay feet.’  That gives some consolation to those of us who continually beat ourselves up for our own imperfections—even the big boys had their problems!  The simplest response and the constant command, however, is that we are called to love, and to treat all men and women with dignity and respect, especially those of the household of the Faith. That command to love and to pursue that dignified and respectful treatment is not a function of being in agreement or all parties always engaging in appropriate behavior.  It’s simply what we are called to do as followers of the Lord Jesus.  We love, because He loved us first and it is what He has called us to do.  We treat people with dignity and respect because no matter what they do or what they believe, they bear the image of God.

We recognize that the call to do this utterly transcends our human capacity; the Lord Jesus Himself makes that clear when He tells us to love one another as He has loved us.  This requires the divine assistance of grace, especially as given to us through the Holy Spirit.  If we have found ourselves in contentious situations about issues we care deeply about, we must always ask ourselves: am I making a conscious choice to love even when I disagree?  This is impossible without grace, but I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.  As we approach the great jubilee of the Catholic charismatic renewal, one thing we can prayerfully consider during this time is: do I love as the Lord Jesus calls me to love, even those I disagree with?  If it is difficult, then this is something very crucial to bring to the Lord Jesus in prayer, that He may lavish His Holy Spirit on us and make us the lovers He has called us to be.  In a certain sense, the judgment on our life will rest on how well we loved, so now is the time to plead with the Holy Spirit for His power, that we may love as the Lord intends!  “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” — Fr. Ed