Third Sunday of the Year. Fr Thomas Crean calls for an end to a silent division over the Church’s teaching.
I beseech you, brethren, that there be no schisms among you.
St Paul is warning the Church at Corinth against the danger of divisions, or literally, of schisms. Of course not all ‘divisions’ in the Church are bad. The various religious orders, for example, like the many colours of Joseph’s robe, serve to increase the beauty of the Church. Likewise it’s only natural that Catholics should have different opinions about matters outside the realm of saving truth, such as who was this country’s greatest Prime Minister, or who (if anyone) to vote for at a general election?
But what cannot be is that Catholics should disagree about the way that leads to Heaven; that they should be divided over faith and morals. There can never be any need for such a schism as this, since Christ has promised to be with His Church always, maintaining her in the truth. For a Catholic to say ‘There are no easy answers’ about what to do or believe in order to reach Heaven is tantamount to saying that Christ is no longer teaching mankind through His Church. But, as Isaiah says, ‘the arm of the Lord is not made short.’ Christ’s promise has not failed.
How sad, then, that there should for so long have been such a schism in the Catholic Church. I mean the division between those who accept and those who do not accept that marriage is made for children and that contraception is simply wrong. It was in 1968 that Pope Paul VI published the encyclical Humanæ Vitæ. He repeated there what the Church has always said on this subject: that it is contrary to the God-given nature of the marriage act to render it sterile. From St Peter onwards, no Pope or saint has ever said anything else. Yet such was the revolutionary temper of the time that some priests and ‘theologians’ thought to challenge the Tradition. In effect they caused a schism, none the less real for being largely invisible. Thirty-seven years on we see the results: empty pews in our churches, and empty pages in our baptismal registers, since babies who are never born can never be baptized.
What were the arguments by which these theologians encouraged God’s people to ‘do as the nations round about them’, and make marriage unfruitful? It was the threat of an over-crowded earth that most stirred the popular imagination. ‘If the human race increases without end, we shall all starve.’ This ignored at least two things. First, it ignored the sad truth that most people will not in fact keep God’s Law, when the contraceptive pill offers an easier way. Secondly it ignored the glorious truth that the human race cannot increase without end, since our Lord will come again, and put an end to history.
Thirty-seven years of silent ‘schism’ within the Church during which a whole generation of Catholics has come to maturity and married. Some may only have heard of God’s Law concerning marriage when it was derided in the secular press, or denied by some ‘prominent’ Catholic. But the Church’s faith remains unchanged and unchangeable. As the Psalmist says of the Holy City:
God is in the midst thereof, it shall not be moved.
In the Bible it is not thirty-seven years but forty that is the time of testing. Moses tells Israel that God led them through the desert for this period:
To prove thee, that the things that were in thy heart might be made known, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments or not.
A number of schisms broke out among the Israelites during that time. The most dramatic was that led by Korah, which ended with the ground opening up and swallowing him and his family, with all their possessions. Later on, the people blamed God and Moses for the fatigues of the journey, and were punished by fiery serpents. Then just before the entrance into the Promised Land, many Israelites were ‘initiated to Beelphegor’, a religion involving a mixture of impurity and idolatry, and 24,000 died as a result.
As the fortieth year draws close for us, there is perhaps a similar reason for the ‘desert’ through which the Church has been passing. Our Lord is ‘testing’ Catholics, to see who will be faithful to his commandments. Not all those who escaped from Egypt entered the Promised Land, but only those who loved God and who showed it by being obedient, patient and chaste. How many of the baptized will enter Heaven? Only God knows: but He has shown us the way to come there.