DIVISION IN THE CHURCH--The Breakdown of a Family

By Lenora Grimaud

Some people would say that the reason we have so much division and disunity in the Church, and in the world, is due to a lack of communication and dialogue. Yet, never before has there been a time where communication skills have been so advanced, and opportunities for dialogue so plentiful. “Communication” marks our present age in time. So, what is the real problem? It seems to me that the real problem is the lack of understanding—good language interpreters. Everyone is talking to each other, but we all seem to speak a different language, and there is no one to interpret what we hear and say. Our skills of understanding and interpretation are so limited that we only hear half of what is really being revealed, and what we hear is usually distorted or taken out of context. In spite of all our advanced communications, we are in the same world state as
the people of Babel were.

The best interpretation I have heard of what the word “heresy” means, is: “The magnification of one truth to the exclusion of another.” We don’t see the whole picture. We choose to accept subjective truth to the exclusion of objective truth, and vice versa. We confuse what is temporal with what is eternal; what is changing and evolving with what is absolute or definitive. We confuse Church Law with Divine Law. We confuse what is external (visible) with what is internal (invisible). We confuse catechesis (doctrine) with pastoral or spiritual direction; we teach doctrine when we should be simply listening and meeting the other person where they are at. We teach pastoral guidance as though it were catechesis and doctrine; we attempt to replace the Law—what is definitive and revealed—with our own personal opinions and understanding. We confuse theology, the understanding of the Church, with our own personal opinions and speculations.

Catechesis is the teaching of the faith. It is based on objective truth. It doesn’t change. It is what has already been revealed. Theology is subjective. It is always developing. It is our understanding of the faith—of what has been revealed. If we try to replace “Revelation” with theology, we end up with heresy. We end up with false teaching—a mass of disjointed fragments of truth and error that cannot be joined or integrated as a whole. We end up with people making their own opinions and subjective understanding into a law and calling it the “Teaching of the Faith.” If we attempt to teach catechesis, while rejecting theology and subjective understanding, we replace love with the Law. Instead of being “under the Spirit,” we regress and put ourselves back “under the Law.” (Gal. 3).

The Church encourages all Christians to grow in their faith, and their knowledge and understanding of God. She encourages the study of religions, philosophy, and the natural sciences. She encourages Christians to meditate, to reflect, and even to question and speculate. This is all part of the learning process. However, she also cautions them to hold fast to the teaching of the Church and Scripture, and to have good guides, teachers, and spiritual directors for their faith journey, in order to be able to withstand the confusion, doubts, distractions, and false teaching that often accompany the study of religion. Most people are aware of the importance of a balanced diet to the health of our bodies. We know that not everything we can consume is good—some things are poisonous, or can cause an allergic reaction. We know that diet is dependent on age, growth, and development—small babies can only be fed milk. We know that too much of a good thing is bad, and can lead to obesity. If diet is so important to the health of our bodies, we should be even more concerned about what we feed our minds, souls, and spirits.

The Church gives a lot of license to Theologians, for speculation and theories when it comes to the study of Religion, because she knows that it takes time to “flesh out meaning and understanding.” However, the Church does not give Theologians permission or authority to teach their speculations and theories to the faithful, when they contradict the teaching of the Church, Scripture, or Tradition.

In regards to mortal sin, the Church teaches what “objective mortal sin” is. But, she does not presume to judge any individual of being in a “state of mortal sin”—which is a “subjective” state of being. In order to be a mortal sin, a person must know it is a sin, think about it, and deliberately choose to do it anyway, knowing that they are rejecting God, intentionally. People today, have had their minds and consciences formed, or at least highly influenced, by the secular culture. Their understanding of sin is not the same as the Teaching of the Church. This includes some priests and bishops, as well. Everyone is influenced by the secular culture to some degree. This means that people can reject or misinterpret the Teaching of the Church, and yet not be in a “state of mortal sin” even when they commit actions that are taught by the Church to be mortal or grave sins. At most, we can only say that these persons do not possess the fullness of the Faith—they do not have a complete or whole understanding of the Teaching of the Church; they are immature Christians—toddlers in the Faith. This is very problematic when those who represent the Church attempt to teach their own understanding to others, and openly reject the Magisterium; when they teach that good is evil and evil is good, because that is what they believe. The Church must take a stand against them for the sake of all the “Faithful.” At the same time, the Church must continue to love and nurture them, rather than giving up on them and rejecting them. She must continue to give them pastoral and spiritual direction, leading them to Jesus so that the Holy Spirit can mold and transform them. The pastoral guidance of the Church is evident in St. Paul’s words to Timothy:

Avoid these futile and silly speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels; and a servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels, but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognize the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved. (2Tim. 2:23-26).

Mortal sin is a mortal wound to the soul. It is a loss of the spiritual life in the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus gave us through Baptism. Jesus really does make a difference in the lives of Christians. He came to give us new life—the fullness of life. This new life is a personal relationship with the indwelling Holy Trinity, making us an intimate member of the family of God—the household of God—the Kingdom of God. Through our union with the Holy Trinity, we have access to sanctifying grace, which can transform us into saints. This is what we lose through mortal sin. We become like the “prodigal son,” leaving home and cut off from his father’s house. A person who is actually spiritually dead due to sin and evil, is incapable of really loving God or anyone else. This is also evidenced by bad character, vices, and lack of virtues. The person cannot even repent on their own volition. It takes grace coming from outside of them to bring about conversion—someone to prepare the way of the Lord, the Word of God, miracles, prophecy, & healing—this is the mission of the Church.

We cannot, however, judge the state of anyone’s soul, or their relationship with God. The “Desert Fathers” taught that whenever we go against our conscience, we sin. This is so even when our conscience is not formed according to the mind of Christ, or the Church. If we believe something is a sin, it is a sin for us—subjectively. St. Paul taught the same thing and warns us to be careful not to cause people to go against their conscience. He taught that if people believed it was a sin to eat meat that was offered to idols, it was a sin if they ate it. Their conscience needed to be reformed, first. If we believe that something is not a sin, it is not a sin for us (subjectively) if we do it. Sin has to do with culpability, and only God can judge our culpability.

Far from passing judgment on each other, therefore, you should make up your mind never to be the cause of your brother tripping or falling. Now I am perfectly well aware, of course, and I speak for the Lord Jesus, that no food is unclean in itself; however, if someone thinks that a particular food is unclean, then it is unclean for him . . . Hold onto your own belief, as between yourself and God—and consider the man fortunate who can make his decision without going against his conscience. But anybody who eats in a state of doubt is condemned, because he is not in good faith; and every act done in bad faith is a sin. (Rom. 14:13-14, 22-23)

Some people practice immoral behavior and they know they are doing wrong. But, there are others who really do not believe that what they are doing is immoral or a sin. Some examples from the past are: slavery, the Crusades, religious intolerance, racial bigotry, and injustice to women and children. Present day examples might be: abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, divorce, religious indifference, and relativism. The human conscience has been corrupted. Unless the conscience is reformed by the Truth, we cannot expect others to live according to the Truth. As Christians, we must strive to inform the conscience of others, through love. It is useless, and maybe even harmful, to try to change our behavior, without first changing our conscience and what we believe.

Some members have seemingly rejected the morality and teaching of the Church, no longer having anything in common with the Church; and some even believe that the Church is corrupt or evil. Although these persons have separated themselves from the Church, the visible “body of Christ” on earth, they may not have separated themselves from the Spirit, the “mystical body of Christ.” They may only be rejecting certain members of the Church, rather than the Church, at large; or certain teachings of the Church. They may be acting out of a distorted or corrupt conscience. Some people are close to God, subjectively, but not objectively through the Church. God meets every person where they are at, and will never abandon anyone. There is always a danger, however, that a person will lose their subjective relationship with God if they consistently reject an objective relationship with God through the visible Church. Only God can judge a soul, but the Church can and must judge the objective behavior (conduct) of her children according to the teachings she has received.

The Church is a “family” of persons, who on their own would be dysfunctional. Every member of this family is limited in their understanding and their faith, as well as in their love and trust in God. The Church always has to consider the “common good” over the individual. The Church is a mother with a Shepherd’s heart, always seeking out the lost and the broken and leading them back into the fold. She does this while making sure that the rest of the “fold” are safe and secure, first. We excommunicate ourselves from this family when we are no longer of one mind, heart, and Spirit with the Church; when we no longer have anything in common with the family—a common purpose; when we no longer come together with the family for fellowship and the “breaking of the bread”—when we move away from all communion with the family; when we no longer love or accept the “parents” of this family—Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and the Magisterium. If we excommunicate ourselves from our “Mother” we also excommunicate ourselves from our brothers and sisters. The family is no longer complete or whole. We excommunicate ourselves from the “family” when the only reason we stay is to tear it down rather than to build it up.

Sometimes the Church is forced to excommunicate a member of the family. This is always with the hope that they will have a change of heart and one day return. It is “tough love.” When a member of the family persists in immoral behavior, according to the objective teaching of the Church, which begins to corrupt or abuse the rest of the family, the Church has to resort to “tough love.” When a member of the family insists on teaching false doctrines, or their own opinions and speculations that are not in accordance with the objective teaching of the Church, and begins to corrupt and diminish the faith of the rest of the family, the Church is forced to resort to “tough love.” This is not difficult for rational people to understand. If a natural family has a member who is controlled by drugs or some other substance, refuses help or even to acknowledge a need for help, and begins to abuse and corrupt the rest of the family, the parents may be forced to institutionalize that member, or force them to leave the home, for the sake of the rest of the family. This is a last resort, and the parents suffer much grief when they have to do it. They never stop hoping that this member will have a change of heart and return. Like the father of the “prodigal son” they are always watching and waiting for their return. If the Church does not secure the safety of the rest of the family, and exercise her authority over the rebellious child, the whole family will be divided and crumble.

There is much diversity among the people of God because we are all unique individuals, with unique gifts, talents, and virtues, as well as faults, vices, and limitations. Diversity is not the same as division, however. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all. (Eph. 4:5-6). St. Paul exhorts us: be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. (Phil. 2:2). The universality of the Church, the common good, and Communion of Saints, cannot be replaced with individualism and pluralism or the Church will be destroyed. Unity does not mean that we are all at the same place in our spiritual growth, or that we all have the same understanding. It means that we are a family and continue to love each other and stay together, without turning against each other or disowning each other. Diversity builds up the Church. Division tears it down. Abuse of authority is a major cause of division in the Church. Abuse of authority is not only the misuse of authority, but the attack against authority and the usurping of authority by those who have not been given authority—such as when children govern their parents, and when individuals try to govern the Magisterium. Unless we reverence lawful authority, we cannot reverence God, and we will always be divided and at war with everyone, including ourselves.