As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:21-23]
The gift of faith…so amazing…is given to us through the Holy Spirit, from God the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ. But we each have our role to play. We can either invite people in…or push them away.
The language of division in the Christian faith is sure to build clouds of rain from the tears of God in heaven. Division is not divine. It resides in the condition of human beings, born of sin. Adam divided from God through disobedience. Adam and Eve divided from each other through temptation and blame. Cain and Able were divided through jealousy. In heaven, was not God weeping?
Loving us beyond our comprehension, Jesus gave his life to bring us together, both together as humans, and together with our Father. His suffering and his death on the cross, the supreme gifts making the resurrection possible…built a bridge home to the divine. And for our security on earth, He left us his Word, his apostles and his Church. Still…we are human. Born into sin.
It is tempting to blame our modern divisions on Luther and Popes, but the schism of the Reformation is only one break of many others beginning in the first days of Christian history. Mary and Martha divided over how to serve Christ and their guests. The disciples divided from the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive alabaster oil. [Mark 14:3-9] The disciples divided from the sons of Zebedee over who had the right to sit next to Jesus in heaven. [Mat 20:20-28] Peter divided from, even separated from Christ, denying him three times. And he wept bitterly.
Originally, Luther and his followers only imagined one division, a separation from the Catholic Church by those who were “not Catholic.” What Luther never envisioned was the scope and variety of beliefs and practices that would explode out of being “NOT”. Many claim there are more than 30,000 different protestant denominations. But who is to know? After all, if you are not Catholic, you are entitled to be anything…even your own denomination of one…yourself.
In its variety of denominations, protestants are generally open to banding together under the Christian tent. However, the tent is seldom large enough to include the Catholic Church. For her part, the Catholic Church has played a role in division with her claim to exclusivity in beliefs, sacraments, rituals, authority and salvation. In all of this, can we not see Jesus in heaven weeping?
Thus, few changes in church affiliation are as difficult as those for people entering the Catholic Church. The general impression is that the person is moving out of Christianity into Catholicism. Sadly, it can become the source of even more division, separating the convert from family, friends and, tragically, spouses.
Gratefully, as I moved toward the Catholic Church, my husband accepted this change with charity. I knew he would not follow me. Neither would he deny me.
Still, in the little changes of our Sunday routine, I sensed his apprehension. Even as I left the house early to go separately to mass, I committed to attending our Lutheran church as well so that we would have common experiences in our faith lives. Yet, in the finality of my eventual conversion, we would no longer share the sacrament of communion (the Eucharist).
Choosing the Catholic Church had put us on different sides of all the wrangling that takes place among Christians and Catholics. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is closer to Jesus…who gets to sit at his right and at his left? It was easy to see that my choice could be taken as a rejection of my husband’s church and his Christian faith. He continued to push me forward on the road to Rome, but I felt a quiet hurt that doesn’t escape a wife’s attention after sharing forty years of life together.
Talking briefly, I assured him our marriage is too important for it to be undermined by Christian divisions. And I vowed to my husband that I would not make any change until he was confident that his faith would not become “less” for the sake of my faith becoming different. I would wait…weeks, months or years. For now, we would continue to worship Christ together.
This made it easy to walk away from the past September’s RCIA program. I had already mentally programmed myself for years of waiting. The following year, on March 31, Easter arrived, and the catechumens joined the Catholic Church right on schedule. Vic and I shared Easter at our Lutheran church. And having full confidence in God’s timing, I reset my RCIA clock for the coming year.
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