The Great Schism

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/10/14 at 12:00 AM

Perhaps the saddest event within our 2000 years of Christian history is the Great Schism of 1054, by which the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church was cleaved in half between East and West.

After a millennia of unity – albeit at times a very tense and strained unity – the Body of Christ no longer beat with one heart. Divided along cultural, theological, political and geographical lines, Rome and Constantinople were no longer sisters.
While there has been a general softening in hostilities between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and while recent popes have reached out with gestures of conciliation, this division between Eastern and Western Christianity remains unhealed.
Though centuries in its making, with facets that are many and varied, the real heart of the division between Catholics and the Orthodox is really papal authority.
Because the pope is the successor of St. Peter, the undisputed leader of the apostles and the rock upon whom Christ founded His Church, Catholics believe the pope to have authority over all bishops and patriarchs, whereas the Orthodox insist upon the absolute equality of the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople.
Because unity on this issue of gravest importance has yet to be attained, this sad division remains. And division is precisely the theme of our Gospel today.
In words that may shock ears attuned to a culture that insists that “being nice,” is the highest virtue, our Lord says: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
So how do we reconcile these words from our merciful Lord, Whom we are accustomed to seeing so generously healing the sick and lame, and so gently calling children to Himself? Didn’t Jesus die for us all, and doesn’t He want all of us to be one body in Him?
Yes, Jesus did die for all mankind without exception. And yes, He does want us all to be united as one body. But that unity is not contingent upon Him, but rather upon us. If there is a division between Christ and us, it is not Christ’s fault.
Our Lord knew during His time on earth that He would be rejected and despised by many. Jesus knew there would be those people who, hardened by sin and selfishness, would turn away from Him and oppose Him to their own peril.
And the hard truth is that while our blessed Lord desires the salvation of all men more than anything else, He will allow us to damn ourselves if we fail to reconcile ourselves to Him and the Truth He has revealed through His Church.
My dear brothers and sisters, I cannot say it enough to you: we must never presume upon our salvation. Yes, salvation is a free gift given by God. Yes, God is merciful beyond measure and will pardon even the very gravest of sins if we are sorry for them.
But our redemption is a process with which we must cooperate. Specifically, we must conform our lives to our Lord’s teaching as it is divinely revealed to us through the Church. And we must beg pardon for those times that we fail.
So our work in the process of our own redemption is that of seeking out the Truth that our Lord has so lovingly revealed in the teachings of the Church and written upon our hearts, and then – by God’s grace, so freely given – doing our best to live by that Truth.
Our work in the process of our own redemption is a matter of coming to know Christ, to love Christ, and to be like Christ. If we hope to be saved, my dear brethren, then we must have a real relationship with the Savior!
Because Jesus Christ is our brother and friend, we must be intimate with Him in prayer. Because He is our savior, we must constantly thank and adore Him. And because Christ will be our Judge, we must obey Him and seek His mercy for our sins.
As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us today, we must “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”
But as with all things, we must not think only of ourselves. True charity demands that we try to help others along the path of salvation. And so the life of the Christian is necessarily evangelical by nature – helping others to know the truth and live by it.
The primary way that we evangelize is by living our Catholic faith with authenticity, for we cannot hope that others will adopt our faith if we ourselves are failing to live it well. But living our faith with integrity is only the beginning.
In a society such as ours that is now embracing as normal and good a whole host of evil and perverse practices, and even taxing its citizens to pay for those evils, we must also be willing to engage in battle with evil.
In a society such as ours that understands contraception as a necessity, abortion as a fundamental right, pornography as a pastime, and same sex unions as a matter of equality, we must hold fast to and promote our Catholic teachings with all the more tenacity – for souls are being lost to these evils in our midst.
Indeed, my brothers and sisters, we must be so convinced of the Truth of what Christ teaches us through His Church that we are willing to suffer the loss of relationships with loved ones rather than deny or disobey it.
We must be willing to suffer the pain that division with others brings in order to remain true to Jesus and to help others know Him. That’s the meaning of today’s Gospel!
There can be no doubt that living our Catholic faith with integrity is difficult today because it requires nothing less than dying to ourselves so that Christ may live in us. Our faith demands that we suffer, for there is no Catholicism without the cross.
Moreover, our world is filled with many temptations and with so many charlatans who, tickling our ears with lies and half-truths, sow doubts in our faith and distort the truths of Christ’s teachings.
Yet we must not be discouraged, even when those we love turn away from us because of our adherence to our Catholic faith. We must not be discouraged even when we have to suffer for our faith, as did poor Jeremiah in our first reading.
For as Jesus told His disciples during His sermon on the mount: “Blessed are you when they insult you, and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven” (Mt 5:12).
Brethren, none of us likes to be at odds with others. None of us likes to suffer the pains of division or persecution. Certainly, we should never seek division with others, but being true disciples of Christ may necessitate it.
Our readings today ask us the question if we are willing to suffer division for our faith. For the sake of souls, let us resolve to suffer whatever divisions necessary in this life so that we may not suffer eternal division from Christ in the next.
18 August 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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