Hurricane Sandy, Photograph by Ken Cedeno, Corbis Images
WHETHER it has been global politics, the recent American presidential campaign, or family relationships, we are living in a time when divisions are becoming more glaring, intense and bitter. In fact, the more we are connected by social media, the more divided we seem to be as Facebook, forums, and comment sections become a platform by which to disparage the other—even one’s own kin… even one’s own pope. I receive letters from all over the world that mourn the terrible divisions that many are experiencing, particularly within their families. And now we are seeing the remarkable and perhaps even prophesied disunity of “cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops” as foretold by Our Lady of Akita in 1973.
The question, then, is how to bring yourself, and hopefully your family, through this Storm of Division?
ACCEPT THE CHRISTIAN’S LOT
Immediately following the Inauguration speech of President Donald Trump, a news commentator wondered if the new leader’s frequent references to “God” were an attempt to unite the entire country under one banner. Indeed, the moving inaugural prayers and blessings also frequently and unapologetically invoked the name of Jesus. It was a powerful witness to a part of the historical foundations of America that seemed all but forgotten. But that same Jesus also said:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. (Matt 10:34-36)
These mysterious words can be understood in light of Christ’s other sayings:
This is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed… They hated me without cause… because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. (John 3:19-20; 15:25; 19)
The truth, as revealed in Christ, not only liberates, but it also convicts, angers, and repels those whose conscience is dulled or who reject the Gospel’s tenets. The first thing is to accept this reality, that you too will be rejected if you associate yourself with Christ. If you cannot accept it, then you cannot be a Christian, for Jesus said,
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
That is, if anyone compromises the truth in order to be accepted and approved—even by one’s own family—they have placed the idol of their ego and reputation above God. You have repeatedly heard me quote John Paul II who said, “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, etc.”. I believe we will see the inevitable division between darkness and light intensify in the months and years ahead. The key is to be prepared for this, and then to respond as Jesus did:
…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)
JUDGMENTS: THE SEEDS OF DIVISION
One of the most insidious ways that Satan is working today is through sowing judgments in hearts. May I give you a personal example…
A few years ago, I felt a swell of rejection coming from all sides—just one of the costs of doing this particular ministry. However, I left my heart unguarded, and in a moment of self-pity, allowed a judgment to take hold in heart: that my wife and children also reject me. In the days and months that followed, I subtly began to say and project things on them, putting words in their mouths, that suggested that they did not love or accept me. This puzzled and troubled them… but then, I believe they too began to lose confidence in me as a husband and father. One day, my wife said something to me that was straight from the Holy Spirit: “Mark, stop letting others remake you in their image, whether it’s me or your children or anyone else.” It was a grace-filled moment of light when God began to unmask the lie. I asked forgiveness, renounced those lies that I had believed, and began to let the Holy Spirit remake me again in God’s image—His alone.
I remember another time when I was giving a concert to a small crowd. A man with a scowl on his face sat through the evening unresponsive and, well, scowling. I remember thinking to myself, “What is wrong with that guy? What a hard heart!” But after the concert, he came up to me and thanked me, evidently touched by the Lord. Boy, was I wrong.
How many times do we read someone’s expression or actions or emails and assume they are thinking or saying something they’re not? Sometimes a friend withdraws, or someone who was kind to you suddenly ignores you or doesn’t readily respond to you. Often times it has nothing to do with you, but with something that they are going through. More often than not, it turns out that others are just as insecure as you. In our compulsive society, we need to resist jumping to conclusions and instead of thinking the worst, assume the best.
Be the first one to diffuse those judgments. Here’s five ways how…
I. Overlook the faults of another.
It is inevitable that even the most in-love newlyweds will eventually come face to face with the faults of their spouse. So too with roommates, classmates, or colleagues. Spend enough time with another person, and you are sure to be rubbed the wrong way. That is because all of us are subject to fallen human nature. This is why Jesus said:
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned… (Luke 6:37)
There is a little Scripture I continually remind my children with whenever there are little squabbles, and in particular, whenever we are ready to pounce on the other’s shortcomings: “bear one another’s burdens.”
Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2)
Whenever I see the faults of others, I try to quickly remind myself that not only have I often failed in similar fashion, but that I have my own faults and am still a sinner. In those moments, rather than criticizing, I choose to pray, “Lord, pardon me, for I am a sinful man. Have mercy on me and on my brother.” In this way, says St. Paul, we are fulfilling the law of Christ, which is to love one another as He has loved us.
How often has the Lord forgiven and overlooked our faults?
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:4)
II. Forgive, again and again
In that passage from Luke, Jesus continues:
Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)
There is a popular song where the lyrics go:
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word.
—Elton John, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”
Bitterness and division are often the fruits of unforgiveness, which can take the form of ignoring someone, giving them the cold shoulder, gossiping or slandering them, dwelling on their character faults, or treating them according to their past. Jesus, again, is our best example. When He appeared to the Apostles in the upper room for the first time after His resurrection, He did not scorn them for fleeing the garden. Rather, He said, “Peace be with you.”
Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled. (Heb 12:14-15)
Forgive, even if it hurts. When you forgive, you break the cycle of hatred and release the chains of anger around your own heart. Even if they can’t forgive, you at least are free.
III. Listen to the other
Divisions are often the fruit of our incapacity to listen to one another, I mean, really listen—especially when we’ve built a tower of judgments against the other. If there is someone in your life with whom you are bitterly divided, then if possible, sit down and listen to their side of the story. This takes some maturity. Hear them out without being defensive. And then, when you’ve listened, share your perspective gently, patiently. If there is good will on both parts, usually reconciliation is possible. Be patient because it may take a while to untangle the judgments and assumptions that have created a false reality. Remember, what St. Paul said:
…our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Eph 6:12)
Every one of us—left, right, liberal, conservative, black, white, male, female—we come from the same stock; we bleed the same blood; we are all one of God’s thoughts. Jesus didn’t die for just good Catholics, but for bad atheists, stubborn liberals, and proud right-wingers. He died for us all.
How much easier it is to be merciful when we recognize that our neighbour really isn’t the enemy after all.
If possible, on your part, live at peace with all… Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another. (Rom 12:18, 14:19)
IV. Take the first step
Where there is discord and division in our relationships, as true Christians, we have to do our part to bring it to an end.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)
…if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)
Clearly, Jesus is asking you and me to take the initiative.
I remember at the beginning of my ministry several years ago, a certain priest seemed to have it in for me. In meetings, he would frequently be abrupt with me and generally cool afterward. So one day, I approached him and said, “Fr., I have noticed that you seem to be a bit upset with me, and I was wondering if I have done anything to offend you? If so, I want to apologize.” The priest sat back, took a deep breath and said, “Oh my. Here I am a priest, and yet, it is you who have come to me. I am deeply humiliated—and I am sorry.” He went on to explain why he was impertinent. As I explained my perspective, the judgments unraveled, and there was nothing left but peace.
It is hard and humiliating at times to say, “I’m sorry.” But blessed are you when you do. Blessed are you.
V. Let go…
The hardest thing to do in division is to “let go,” especially when we are misunderstood and the judgments or gossip or rejection hang over our heads like an oppressive cloud—and we are helpless to dispel it. To walk away from a Facebook fight, to let someone else have the last word, to end without justice being done or your reputation vindicated… in those times, we are most identified with the persecuted Christ: the mocked, ridiculed, misunderstood One.
And like Him, it is better to choose “peace” by silence. cf. The Silent Answer But it is that very silence which pierces us most because we no longer have the “Simons of Cyrene” to support us, the crowds to vindicate, or seemingly the Lord’s justice to defend. We have nothing but the harsh wood of the Cross… but in that moment, you are closely united to Jesus in your suffering.
Personally, I find this extremely difficult, because I was born for this ministry; to be a fighter… (My name is Mark which means “warrior”; my middle name is Michael, after the warring archangel; and my last name is Mallett—a “hammer”)… but I have to remember that a significant part of our witness is not just defending the truth, but the love that Jesus showed in the face of utter injustice, which was not to fight, but to lay down His defence, His reputation, even His dignity out of love for the other.
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12:21)
As parents, it is most difficult to let go of the child with whom we are divided, the child who rebels and rejects what you have taught them. It is painful to be rejected by your own child! But here, we are called to imitate the father of the prodigal son: let go… and then, be the face of unconditional love and mercy to them. We are not our children’s Savior. My wife and I have eight kids. But each one of them is so vastly different from the other. Made in God’s image, from an early age on, they find the capacity to choose according to their own free will. We have to respect that just as much as we try to form it. Let go. Let God. Your prayers at that point are far more powerful than endless arguments…
ICONS OF PEACE
Brothers and sisters, the world is at risk of going up in a conflagration of hatred. But what an opportunity it is to be witnesses in the darkness of division! To be the shining Face of Mercy amidst the faces of wrath.
For all the faults and shortcomings that our Pope may have, I believe his blueprint for evangelization in Evangelii Gaudium is the right one for these times. It is a programme that calls us to be the face of joy, us to be the face of mercy, us to reach out to the fringes where souls linger in isolation, brokeness and despair… maybe, and most especially, to those with whom we are estranged.
An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 24
Jesus ascended to Heaven so that He could send us the Spirit. Why? So that you and I could cooperate in the completion of the work of Redemption, first within ourselves, and then within the world around us.
Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect Him. We are called to incarnate Him in our lives, to clothe our lives with Him, so that people can see Him in us, touch Him in us, recognize Him in us. —Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty, from The Gospel Without Compromise; cited in Moments of Grace, January 19th
Yes, blessed are the peacemakers!
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|1.||⇡||cf. The Silent Answer|