Timothy P. O'Malley" />

Christians: Expect division



We often hear commentators bemoan the partisan polarization that seems to have infected the United States. If only we could treat each other with a degree of decorum, to dialogue as equals, then perhaps we could pursue the common good.

This political posture is praiseworthy. All things being equal, it is good to engage charitably with an interlocutor, to presume the best — even when we disagree with someone’s policies or positions.

But such agreeable dialogue can go too far. Our Lord in the Gospels acknowledges that he has come not to create a space of harmonious tolerance but to introduce division: “‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51).

What can Our Lord mean? In a fallen world, peace often is achieved through the refusal to confront injustice. We peacefully dwell in a society where we don’t condemn the death of the unborn, where we silently let immigrant children suffer, and where we don’t confront a prison system that erases the humanity of the prisoner.

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Aug. 18, 2019
JER 38:4-6, 8-10
PS 40:2, 3, 4, 18
HEB 12:1-4
LK 12:49-53

Christians can have no traffic in such silent, peaceful submission to injustice. For our Lord comes to announce a reign of love unto the end. No one is being excluded from this salvific promise.

Of course, the problem is that we tend to want to exclude people. In fact, not just to exclude people, but to eliminate them from our lives. Not this one, we say to ourselves, because he’s not worthy of redemption. Redemption is reserved for us, the good and holy ones. Not these ones.

The Lord Jesus Christ announces amid this fallen condition the possibility of redemption for the entire human family. We should expect some enmity. We should expect some judgment. We should expect some division.

Catholics, in the end, are divisive because our Lord Jesus Christ is divisive. We refuse to adopt the exclusive platform of this political party. We see the power grabs of these parties and declare our allegiance not to a platform but to a person: Jesus Christ. So a responsible civic discourse is good. Not everyone in the United States is a Catholic. Not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone sees the world as our Lord Jesus did. As he does.

But we are called to a certain divisiveness because we believe that in Jesus Christ, in the Word made flesh, we have encountered the hypothesis intended to make sense of everything. Life is not about the struggle for power or prestige. It’s not the important people, who occupy the highest offices, that are the saints of human happiness.

Instead, it’s in the self-emptying love of the crucified and risen Lord that we find our happiness. It is a happiness defined not by power but sacrificial love. This sacrificial life is to be offered to the human family, in every member, for God is love. Love unto the end.

Of course, this posture of love unto the end does not mean political and social success. It doesn’t mean McMansions and winning popularity contests. Instead, it means the sweetest of possibilities for Christians: the possibility that we share in some way in his death.

Martyrdom has always been the Christian response to the politics of this age. We accept our fate — even if that fate means the loss of job, of power or of our lives. After all, the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews are themselves divisive. They are those who testified to Jesus as Lord. Even if it meant their death.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

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