Friday, November 16, 2012

Us Versus Them

[In reference to Matt 5:23 ff], you cannot come into God’s presence unreconciled with your brother; anticipating him in the gesture of reconciliation, going out to meet him, is the prerequisite for true worship of God. In so doing, we should keep in mind that God himself—knowing that we human beings stood against him, unreconciled—stepped out of his divinity in order to come toward us, to reconcile us. We should recall that before giving us the Eucharist, he knelt down before his disciples and washed their dirty feet, cleansing them with his humble love.
Jesus of Nazareth 1, 158

Reflection – One of the most painful realities of life in the Church is the reality of division within the Church. There are many forms of this division: deep disagreements about theology and morality, ethnic clashes and historical wounds carried over into ecclesial life, simple personality clashes, unresolvedhurt feelings, political power struggles at the level of the parish or the diocese.

All of these can mean that Sunday Mass can be a gathering of enemies as much as the fellowship of believers. It is a sad and painful reality—or at least it should cause us sadness and pain—a reflection of our wounded broken humanity carried into the sanctuary of God.

We do have ‘something against our brother’ all too often, and we seem not to know what to do about it, not to be able to do it, or maybe even not to care too much one way or the other.
It’s that latter attitude that has to go, or our worship is a lie. I can find myself helpless in the face of a divided church, unsure of how to effect unity and reconciliation, but I must not callously shrug my shoulders and so, ‘So what! That’s their problem, not mine!”

No. It is my problem, even in the unlikely event that I am entirely innocent of wrongdoing in the matter. We are all one another’s problem, and there is no ‘they’ in the Church. Just us. It’s all about God, you see. It’s all about this God who bridged the gap between heaven and earth, infinity and finitude, divinity and humanity. It’s all about this God who did the unthinkable for us, to heal the wound of alienation and separation that our sins created.

What are we supposed to do for one another, then, in the face of what God has done for us? It’s a deep question, and I’m not providing any pat simplistic answers here. The reality of a divided church is very real, very serious, entirely tragic. The petty and not-so-petty feuds that rend Christianity are a major source of scandal that impede our proclamation of the Gospel and make it much, much harder for people to find their way into the Church’s life.

What are we supposed to do? Pray, for sure. Fast, definitely. Take responsibility for our own part in divisions, absolutely. Forgive anyone who has hurt us, totally and unconditionally.

And examine, searchingly and seriously, how we treat ‘the other’, whoever and whyever that other is. How do we talk to them, how do we talk about them, what is our inner attitude towards ‘them’, whether the ‘them’ is the liberals, the conservatives, the Irish, the German, the French, the stuck-up #$%s who run the parish council or the lazy no-good #$%s who maybe show up most Sundays.

What is the deep attitude of our hearts towards ‘them’? Contempt and judgment? Or compassionate love? If it is the former, more prayer and fasting is required. If it is the latter, then let us thank God for his grace. But we must ask God constantly what more we can do to heal the wounded, divided, fractious Church, so that our worship and our witness may go out from us unimpeded and reach its full power and effect.

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