Reflection & Dialogue: The Church in dialogue with division.
Reflection. Today’s readings give us rich material for reflection. We, present-day Christians, are heirs to a great cloud of witnesses. From the very beginnings of the Church’s history the followers of Christ experienced persecution of one kind or another. Early in his ministry we find Paul and his fellow missioner Barnabas encouraging new converts and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews read today strong stress is laid on perseverance. The same messages holds true for our own day.
Dialogue. What Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading on the connection between his person and division, even the absence of peace, provides us with a strong invitation for dialogue. Christ is the Prince of Peace who has made a strong plea for unity. All are well aware of his words that he is the good shepherd and that there were other sheep that were not of his fold, sheep that will heed his voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:14-16). These words are often cited. But this does not permit us to forget the divisions connected with the person of Jesus by reason of the demands he makes and the mystery that is his person, continued in the Church which is his body. And indeed, already after his statement about himself as good shepherd, the Gospel text goes on to say that there was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Jesus came to the world and the world did not know him; he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. In the early Church there was division between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. Division continued between Christians over the centuries, the major division in the West coming with the Reformation, and remaining with us today.
The examples we have considered concern divisions among Christian believers. The divisions today between Christ and what he stands for and much of contemporary society run far deeper, between the Christian vision and that of atheism, humanism, liberalism and other movements. For believers, Christ is the saviour of the world, and the Christian vision of personal and public morality covers many aspects of human behaviour. These other ideologies mentioned also have a vision of life and human society which they believe should be governed without any reference to, or influence from, the voice of God or of Jesus. The Church and believers must, as far as possible, engage in dialogue with the new reality.
It is a question of dialogue, not criticism. Both Christ, the Church and humanism have a rather absolute vision of the world, the human person, and matters relating to them. In the view of philosophical humanism faith is an impediment to human development. For Christ himself and his followers, Christ is the Saviour of the world. This dialogue implies that the arguments of humanism be examined and responded to by the Christian position. Believers should not be afraid of such dialogue. In a sense, fidelity to Christ and the Christian inheritance indicates it.