By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Well, happy spring everyone!—the equinox having been on March 20. Sure is a lot better than last year when the pandemic was just starting to ravage through the world’s populations. A lot of pain since that time, and we mourn with all those who lost loved ones to the virus. Know that thoughts and prayers are with you all.
The pandemic sure opened a lot of cracks (or chasms) of division—to close or not to close, masks or no masks, travel or not travel, hoax or no hoax, Fauci or no Fauci, etc.—some such arguments still ongoing, both in the U.S. and overseas. One would think that something as universal as a pandemic would unite humanity. Alas … no.
I was thinking about that in reading the Mass Gospel from John 7 Saturday. The Jewish religious authorities, bent on destroying Jesus, argued with one another, at the end of which “…each went to his own house”—a sad commentary, perhaps indicating the divisions existing among them. As we will remember next week in Holy Week, the anti-Jesus faction would prevail, having Jesus arrested and engineering His crucifixion—the execution of the absolute and Divine Good—followed by His Resurrection a few days later and all the incomparable benefit it resulted for Mankind.
One thing that the Passion story very starkly shows is the power of … power. Those in power defend it jealously. We’d hope that our leaders are idealists—seeking a great goal and working to advance the beneficial ideal without overstepping proper lines—advancing good through good means. Sadly, this is not always—many would say rarely—the case. Often the idealists establish, but as power or influence grows, lesser men/women see opportunity and exploit it for personal gain.
But not all power and authority is bad, of course; in fact, good use of those is necessary for the cooperative advancement of society. Such authority is found in unity and unity of purpose.
Yet the worm of dissension invariably enters … unity always being tested—in organizations, in nations, and even in religion. Active identification and consideration of faults or weaknesses is beneficial, but change should build upon the good already present and not tear that good apart.
Perhaps inevitably, considering its immortal Garden-ruining Adversary, are divisions within Christianity. Even the most sincere can differ. But while there have been divisions in the faith since the beginning (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:18, Jude 19) and various theories advanced, the overwhelming tide of the Christian faith continues to rise, against all odds and challenges.
Key, of course, is fidelity, and Christians express such fidelity by adherence to the instruction given us through what we believe is the wonderful gift of the God-inspired scriptures … as we are reminded: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
“But why, pray tell, do you believe in scriptures at all?”, asks the inquirer. Oh, let me count the ways…
We believe even for very historical extra-Biblical reasons, such as the rapid growth of Christianity in the beginning, and its continued growth and resilience over two millennia . … against all odds of even surviving, much less spreading worldwide. This faith of ours was begun by one who would seemingly be an uneducated common laborer from a vassal state, and yet has far outlasted that—and every—empire. Initially spread by a bunch of uneducated rubes, and actively persecuted both then and now in and by the world, this faith thrives nonetheless. Prophecies fulfilled, miracles (both ancient and modern) accomplished—all these and more point to the truth of the faith. One might even go back as far as Abraham and prophecy written about him a thousand years or more even before Jesus: “[God said] I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore,” (Genesis 22:17)—realized as Abraham’s descendants in faith by him, the father of monotheism, which all Christians, Jews and even Muslims recognize—about 4 billion-ish or so people. Not bad for a 3000-or-more-year-old prophecy!
Relying on these and other evidences for veracity, we then remember an assurance of that founder of the faith: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19) Thus the Christian’s obligation to follow the Word. To dispel doubt, we also read in a later letter: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. (1 John 5:2-3) Loving neighbor, then, is manifest in following God’s moral law.
Scripture authors foresaw division, and advised caution: “…the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth…” (2 Timothy 4:3-4), as well as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…” (Hebrews 13:8-9) Even Jesus mused sadly: “…when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
And so, O Christian, have trust in God’s Word, for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life—our unity. There are always temptations to division … always challenges and developments which call for consideration and discernment. But, in the end, the good person will seek the Good, the divine, the selfless, the greater benefit for all in His Truth. For we Christians, that benefit is found primarily—in fact, exclusively—in adhering closely to the foundational cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His apostles—God’s “house”. After all, what can be better but to devotedly follow Him who taught the world to love God with whole heart, and our neighbor as ourselves?
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.