Archdiocese of Chicago

Catholic Chicago Blog

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Church Divided

By Scott McLarty

As the new Director of the Office for Peace and Justice here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American Catholic today concerned with peace and justice.  I must confess that Rudyard Kipling’s “Ballad of East and West” (1889) keeps popping up in my mind.  It begins and ends with the same quatrain:

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Kipling’s words, originally of the British Empire, ring true in today’s American political and religious climate.  Rather than East and West (India and Britain), hear right and left, conservative and liberal, us and them.  We live in an either/or nation ideologically divided and increasingly incapable of civil public discourse.  Next-door neighbors, divided by two-party politics or the culture wars, might as well “come from the ends of the earth!”

What of these same divisions within the Church, with our pew-mates?  Can we tolerate in our parishes what we tolerate in our politics?  Are we willing to allow theological divisions within the Church which are neither peaceful nor just?  Are there conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics and “never the twain shall meet?”  All too many of us manipulate our theology to fit our politics.  The result: we are often unjust toward and not at peace with our fellow Catholics.  We are “more Catholic” than theyMy theology conforms to the Gospel or Church teaching more than hisOur moral stance is superior to theirs.

Certainly, there are those with bad theologies and distorted moralities, but that should never be an occasion for pride.  Rather we must respond with charity in truth.  “Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion. Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things.” (Caritas in veritate sec. 4) In other words, when we approach each other through the lens of our secular politics (i.e. “subjective opinions and impressions and our cultural and historical limitations”) rather than truth, we stifle communication and communion.   But when we come together in a common search for truth, we can find that though it may seem that “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” the truth is, “there is neither East nor West,” just strong Catholics standing “face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth.”


Wednesday, July 20, 2011 9:26 PM

I love that statement that we should be "just strong Catholics standing face to face." The teachings of the Church are such a blessing and yet we do tend to distort them to fit our own political or personal ideologies. If every man actually knew the social doctrine of the Church how different this world would be. Scott I am excited that you are the new director for the Office for Peach and Justice, and I will be praying for the mission of your office, a mission rooted in the authentic social doctrine of the Catholic Church!
Oh, one last comment, another person mentioned that none has the answers, we can look to one person, Christ and the Church He left us, if we could all live our lives based on the moral AND social (justice) teachings of the Church we could live a life of perfect harmony with each other, but as usual original sin gets in the way.

Devin J.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 12:24 PM

I agree. I am shocked at how cynical and mean some people have become in their civil discourse. It does nothing but continue to polarize the debate. I try to remember that we are all "children of Christ" when talking about explosive issues, to try to remind myself to keep an open mind, and to try to learn from others point of view, even if I disagree with them.

Mary N.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 6:45 AM

What Jesus seemed to care most about is what we do, not what we say. The key to bringing Catholics (and others of good will together) is to find things we can DO to help bring about the kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven" as Jesus taught us to pray. That is neither a liberal nor a conservative idea. "Which of the two sons did the will of the Father," Jesus asked. "The one who DID what he was asked to DO" was the correct answer. We Catholics can fight all we want about theology and liturgy and ecclesiology, but we will be judged on what what we DO (or DON'T DO) for the world, especially, it seems, for the poor and the oppressed.

Greg P.

Monday, July 18, 2011 12:45 PM

I think, as a Catholic, we must tolerate differing views, for the very reason you speak of...we are in a search for truth. I think there in lies the problem with civil no longer seeks truthful, honest answers to issues facing us, but rather each side seeks to enforce its side in the guise of doing the greater good. I think, guided by the Holy Spirit, our church must have differing views, but we must all keep in mind, none of has the answers, we can only do what we are guided to do by the Holy Spirit.

Bern M.