On a recent week, I overheard or read the following statements:
“Pope Francis is the antichrist.”
“Bishop Zubik is in league with the devil.”
“The Diocese of Pittsburgh doesn’t care about the folks in the pews.”
“On Mission for The Church Alive! should be renamed Off Mission for the Church Alive.”
My brothers and sisters, do those statements make you feel uncomfortable? They were certainly very difficult to write, let alone hear or read. And while we know that none — NONE — of those statements are true, we see them in print and we hear them uttered frequently, on social media, in the newspaper, at the local grocery store and in the neighborhood pub.
And sadly, all too often it is Catholics — we ourselves — who are sowing these seeds of contempt and division.
In the Gospel of Mark (3:24-25), Jesus tells us very clearly that “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” My friends, the devil loves nothing more than separating us from one another, and ultimately separating us from God.
And he is very slick, very subtle and very cunning in how he pulls us apart — how he divides and tears down the house of God. Most of the time he simply sits back and lets us do it to ourselves. In fact, if we are not careful — if we are not constantly vigilant — we can find ourselves doing the devil’s work, all the while thinking that we are serving God.
Every time we gossip, we tear down the house of God.
Every time we give in to cynicism, we tear down the house of God.
Every time we fan the flames of suspicion, we tear down the house of God.
Every time we let fear get the best of us, we tear down the house of God.
You see, the house of God is a house of love. Not the sickly sweet kind of love on a Hallmark card. Not the ridiculous fantasy kind of love we see on a TV episode of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” Not the world’s definition of love that tells us as long as it feels good it must be love.
God’s house of love is built on the most radical kind of love.
The radical kind of love that led his Son, Jesus Christ, to the cross.
The radical kind of love that says, “I love you so much that I am willing to die for you.”
The radical kind of love that says, “I will take on the consequences of your sin so that you may have eternal life.”
That, my brothers and sisters, is the kind of love that God’s house is built upon. That is precisely the kind of love — self-sacrificial love — that you and I, by virtue of our baptism, have been called to practice. But be ready. The world doesn’t always understand that kind of love.
The world and the devil are going to tell you that that kind of love is crazy. But we know better. We have been redeemed by the radical love of Jesus Christ, and through his grace we are strengthened and on guard against those things that divide and tear down his house.
Over the next few months and years, the Church of Pittsburgh is going to go through some significant changes. Those changes won’t always be easy. At times it will be natural for us to feel afraid, sad, angry or frustrated. We may not always understand or even agree with some of the changes that God has in store for us.
But we shouldn’t let our fear, anger or sadness divide us. We must not make it easy for the devil by engaging in gossip, cynicism or suspicion. What unites us is so much bigger than church buildings or Mass schedules or this-or-that priest. What unites us is eternal. Despite whatever human frailties and failures exist in our church, our faith tells us that the Holy Spirit is ultimately guiding us.
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians (4:18), St. Paul reminds us that we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
Let us pray for the grace to let go of whatever behaviors, attitudes and fears might be causing division in the house of God. Let us pray for the grace to welcome all those who do the will of God as our sisters and brothers. Let us pray for the grace, in the words of St. Paul, to recognize that we “have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Deacon Kondrich is director of outreach for Catholic Charities, and serves at Madonna del Castello and Word of God parishes.