Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

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Roman Catholic Man

The Youth Synod is Rome is mercifully in its last week. Reading and watching reports coming out of the Vatican has been like watching an impending train wreck in slow motion. You can see what is happening, you are in anguish, you even cry out to give warning, but to no avail. The car crossing the tracks will be obliterated by the oncoming train whose conductor is either asleep at the controls or willfully planning to ram into the car.

Now that may sound uncharitable or judgmental, but sometimes the truth is hard to say and hard to hear. This morning’s Gospel reading is one of those passages where our Lord speaks and we jerk ourselves to attention and say, “What?” In case you weren’t in Mass this morning, you can read it here:

Jesus: A Cause of Division.“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.” (Luke 12:49–53 NABRE)

This is one of those passages that we would like to say that Jesus obviously doesn’t really mean what he is saying. Isn’t he the Prince of Peace? Didn’t the angels announce at his birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)? He is, and they did!

We are uncomfortable with a Jesus who says he has come to set the earth on fire and he wishes it was already blazing. Bishop Robert Barron this morning in his devotional based on this passage writes, “He’s throwing fire down, much like the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” He’s right and it’s the same God! This does not fit with the popular concept of Jesus “meek and mild” who looks and acts more like a 1960s flower child then the eternal holy God of the universe.

Jesus came to our world with a specific purpose. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” The only way that we can be brought to peace with God is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son. But that doesn’t mean we get to say, “Thanks, Jesus! We’re good! I’ll quote you and give lip service to you, but for the most part I’m going to keep doing what I want to do and live in the way that makes me happy.”

And then Jesus asks that all important question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Human beings want their cake and eat it too. We want peace without the cross. Oh, it’s OK in our minds that Jesus died on the cross, but don’t ask us to get anywhere near the cross ourselves. “I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. I want to be free to express myself in the way that I determine is best for me.” Those words are heard and read everyday of the week and when they come from the lips of “Christians” they are lukewarm puke that Jesus can’t stomach.

Following Jesus causes division! In the family, in the workplace, in society, in the nation, and in the world. When we deny the rightful place of Jesus to apply his fire and sword to our lives in order to conform us to His righteousness, we automatically divide ourselves from him.

That’s what’s so disturbing about what seems to be happening in Rome this month. A Protestant theologian who writes for First Things and other publications, Carl Trueman, wrote today in Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute the following:

Whatever side one chooses in the Reformation of the sixteenth century—be it Bellarmine or Calvin—one thing is for sure: the Tridentine Catholics and the Magisterial Protestants were debating matters of real, ultimate significance. I am a Protestant by conviction and have very serious disagreements with Rome, but I regard traditional Catholicism as asking the right questions and providing substantial answers about the nature of sin, redemption, grace, faith, the sacraments, and eternal destiny. Christianity is a religion with a holy God and a tragic vision of a magnificent but fallen humanity at its core, so tragic that only a bloody sacrifice—the sacrifice of God Incarnate—can atone. I may reject the Mass but I can at least see that it marks the centerpiece of a serious theology and ecclesiology and is attempting to address the complexity of the human condition. By contrast Instrumentum Laboris (Synod of Youth) points to a church that seems to be losing sight of those central issues. The Catholic Church could well be exchanging her theological birthright for a Mass of sociological potage.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church and only He can rescue her from “this present darkness.” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen.

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

Wisdom from Philadelphia at the Synod

I work in Philadelphia Monday through Friday. I live in the shadow of Philadelphia just across the river in a “bedroom community” of the City of Brotherly Love. His Excellency Charles Chaput is the archbishop of Philadelphia, a man who is loved and reviled for his commitment to Catholic orthodoxy. The previous five prelates of Philadelphia were all elevated to the position of cardinal, something that came to be expected for an archdiocese of this importance. The eleven-page testimony of Archbishop Carlo María Viganò gives a reason for why the current prelate is not. “Yes, the Bishops in the United States must not be ideologized, they must not be right-wing like the Archbishop of Philadelphia, (the Pope did not give me the name of the Archbishop)…”

Archbishop Chaput is currently at the Vatican for the Youth Synod. He was elected to the synod’s permanent council three years ago. There has been many who have urged that this synod be postponed or canceled in order to deal with the current sex abuse scandals, including Chaput. Yesterday the Philadelphia archbishops addressed his brother bishops regarding the inclusion of “LGBTQ” in Church documents. I turn the rest of my blog over to Archbishop Chaput:


Brothers,

I was elected to the synod’s permanent council three years ago. At the time, I was asked, along with other members, to suggest themes for this synod. My counsel then was to focus on Psalm 8. We all know the text: “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?”

Who we are as creatures, what it means to be human, why we should imagine we have any special dignity at all – these are the chronic questions behind all our anxieties and conflicts. And the answer to all of them will not be found in ideologies or the social sciences, but only in the person of Jesus Christ, redeemer of man. Which of course means we need to understand, at the deepest level, why we need to be redeemed in the first place.

If we lack the confidence to preach Jesus Christ without hesitation or excuses to every generation, especially to the young, then the Church is just another purveyor of ethical pieties the world doesn’t need.

In this light, I read Chapter IV of the instrumentum, grafs 51-63, with keen interest. The chapter does a good job of describing the anthropological and cultural challenges facing our young people. In fact, describing today’s problems, and noting the need to accompany young people as they face those problems, are strengths of the instrumentum overall. But I believe graf 51 is misleading when it speaks of young people as the “watchmen and seismographs of every age.” This is false flattery, and it masks a loss of adult trust in the continuing beauty and power of the beliefs we have received.

In reality, young people are too often products of the age, shaped in part by the words, the love, the confidence, and the witness of their parents and teachers, but more profoundly today by a culture that is both deeply appealing and essentially atheist.

The elders of the faith community have the task of passing the truth of the Gospel from age to age, undamaged by compromise or deformation. Yet too often my generation of leaders, in our families and in the Church, has abdicated that responsibility out of a combination of ignorance, cowardice and laziness in forming young people to carry the faith into the future. Shaping young lives is hard work in the face of a hostile culture. The clergy sexual abuse crisis is precisely a result of the self-indulgence and confusion introduced into the Church in my lifetime, even among those tasked with teaching and leading. And minors – our young people – have paid the price for it.

Finally, what the Church holds to be true about human sexuality is not a stumbling block. It is the only real path to joy and wholeness. There is no such thing as an “LGBTQ Catholic” or a “transgender Catholic” or a “heterosexual Catholic”, as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ. This has never been true in the life of the Church, and is not true now. It follows that LGBTQ” and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn’t categorize people that way.

Explaining why Catholic teaching about human sexuality is true, and why it’s ennobling and merciful, seems crucial to any discussion of anthropological issues. Yet it’s regrettably missing from this chapter and this document. I hope revisions by the Synod Fathers can address that.


The Youth Synod will run through the whole month of October. We need to be much in prayer!

Wisdom from Philadelphia at the Synod