There’s no doubt we’re living in a time marked by extreme divisions. Whether it be political candidates and parties, economics and foreign policy, marriage and abortion, gender and race—we are a divided nation and a divided people. Religion is not exempt from the plague of division. Today, Catholics are extremely divided on a host of topics, whether it be Vatican II and the liturgy, the morality of vaccines and masking, Pope Francis and the USCCB—we are just as divided as the rest of the world.
In the face of such widespread division, there can be a real temptation to strive for false unity and cohesion. While the desire for unity is, of course, a good one, we must recognize that unity—in and of itself—is not the highest good we ought to strive for. This temptation can be especially strong for Christians.
We rightfully remember the High Priestly prayer of Christ, where he prays extensively for the unity and oneness of His people. Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). This prayer is not just for His immediate apostles. Christ goes on in His prayer: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us” (John 17:20-21). In response to this clear prayer for unity, many Christians have the false idea that all unity is good, and all division is evil. This simply is not the case, especially considering Christ’s oft-forgotten words—that He came to bring division.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53).
The Lord is clear that He did, in fact, come to bring division. While this might seem startling to many, and a contradiction of Christ’s prayer for unity, remember that Jesus comes as “a sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:34). The jarring passage on division and the beautiful prayer for unity both come from the lips of the Lord. Jesus Christ comes to both divide and unite.
We must differentiate between the unity that Christ prays for and the division that He brings. Christ prays that His followers and disciples are one, but He is clear that this unity necessitates a separation and division from those who reject Him. He divides the faithful from the unfaithful, and then He prays for the unity of His followers. This distinction is incredibly important for us today and should serve as a source of consolation for those who lament such widespread division.
The pendulum can, however, swing in the opposite direction. Just as some are tempted to worship unity and strive for it above all else, there are those who elevate division and are tempted to sow discord where there ought to be true unity. We cannot allow arbitrary divisions to be introduced into the Church. This does not mean we cannot have honest disagreements or fraternal correction, rather, it means we cannot argue simply for the sake of arguing. Just as there is no virtue in false unity, there is no virtue in meaningless divisions. The division which we should engender is not internal squabbles and infighting, rather, it is the division that Christ brings—the separation of the faithful from the unfaithful, the hard line between Christians and the world. This is the division which we ought to defend.
Now, we must recognize that this division between the Church and the world, between the faithful and the unfaithful, while being an exterior division, might manifest itself interiorly. It is a sad but true reality that diametrically opposed views in theology and morality between Christianity and the world have entered the conversations of the Church. This is no surprise.
The New Testament itself points to this reality. Jesus warned His disciples, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). St. Peter is even more cautionary, using language that is just as applicable now as it was in the first century: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who brought them…. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled” (2 Peter 2:1-2).
The division that we should allow and support in the Church is division between Christ and all that is opposed to Him. The heresies and false teachings that are being smuggled into our leaders and liturgies, our churches and catechesis, must be opposed. It is on matters of faith and morals that we must not compromise the authentic teachings of the Church and her Savior. There can be no true unity of believers, as Christ prayed for, if we continue to allow false teachings and beliefs to permeate our churches.
This does not mean that every parish and every individual Christian must agree on every particular topic, rather, that there are many extremely important points, fundamental to the Christian Faith, in which we cannot allow a diversity of opinion. Jesus Christ is Himself “The way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He has come to bring division between his followers and the world. From the very beginning of the Church, there have been those who are in the Church, but are not of the Church. This is where legitimate division is necessary. We cannot sacrifice theology and morality for faux unity. Christ is clear that what God has joined together, man must not divide (Matthew 19:6). The reverse is just as true: what God has divided, man must not unite.
So, while Christ is clear that He comes to bring division between the faithful and the unfaithful, to separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him, we should not be surprised that this will include division within the Church. It might not be fashionable or beneficial to disagree and create division in the Church, but there is some division which is necessary.
We cannot preach salvation as coming from anyone or anything other than Christ (cf. Acts 4:12), just as we cannot preach any other god than the God of Israel. We cannot ignore the murderous scourge of abortion (Exodus 20:13) or tolerate any who try to minimize and marginalize this blatant crime against humanity, just as we cannot ignore the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy, in whom we see the face of Christ (Matthew 25:40).
We cannot allow the continued normalization of gender dysphoria and disordered sexual orientation which completely disregards God’s creation of man and woman in His own image and the gift of marriage between the two (Genesis 1:27; Romans 1:26-27), just as we cannot allow the continued widespread consumption of pornography which degrades both men and women and trains its viewers only to use and abuse others for the sake of pleasure and lust (Matthew 5:28). This list goes on, and it should be no surprise that there are many points that divide Christians from the world, and we cannot avoid or shy away from these controversial and divisive topics. Nor should we be ashamed that the teachings of the Church are divisive and upsetting, her founder was too.
While the world crafts idols out of ideas such as unity, tolerance, and coexistence, placing them upon pedestals for reverence and worship, the Church worships God alone. Following Christ necessarily entails division, rejecting the world and all that is opposed to Jesus. We must remember that we are not of this world, that the world hated and crucified Christ and that if we have the world’s love and approval, surely, we are doing something wrong as Christians. Jesus makes this clear in saying, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).
There is a desperate need for division, a need to separate ourselves from the false idea that we need the world on our side. We should not be striving for the world’s approval, or love, or endorsement. As faithful Christians, we will not receive it. Instead, we must follow Christ, and, assured of His love, seek His approval. The division that Christ brings, the division we ought to defend and engender, is the division between His Kingdom and the world’s. Ours ought to be the same heart as the Lord’s. As Christians and as a Church, we need the grace of fortitude to truly separate ourselves from the world. Then the unity that Christ prayed for can finally be accomplished.
The division we need in the Church is an external one, not an internal one. But sadly this division must take place within the Church, for we have allowed the world to seep in. We need to recognize that Christ has called us out of the world and into His family. Far too often, we fall on either side of the extreme: we either idolize unity, leading us to compromise, water-down, and even abandon the true Faith, or we idolize division, which is just as dangerous and likely to lead people away from the Church, causing unnecessary scandal to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Lord wants division outside the Church and unity within the Church; He has come to divide the Church from the world, and to unite the believers into One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
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