Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, May 13, 2018
Sunday of the Fathers of Nicea I
Unity and Division
Epistle: Acts 20:16-18 and 28-36
Gospel: John 17:1-13
Unity and division—these are two key words for today's readings. We hear in St. John's Gospel the words of our Lord, as He prays to His heavenly Father and asking Him to keep the disciples as one, even as He and the Father are one. On the other hand, we hear St. Paul today warn the leaders of the parish in Ephesus that, after he goes, they need to be careful because wolves will get in among the flock and the damage and division they can cause will be serious. This reading is chosen for today because it describes what happened when the teachings of the priest Arius, began to take hold of some people in the Church.
Arius lived in Alexandria, Egypt, born about the year 250 A.D. To put it very simply, Arius began to preach that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, was not God. He quoted the Gospel of John, 14:28 where Jesus tells the disciple, "If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going back to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." Arius believed that Jesus was not God, but only the highest of all creatures that God the Father had created. If Jesus was begotten of the Father, then He had a beginning, and if He had a beginning, He cannot be God. This caused one of the greatest heresies of the early Church to take root, and from the end of the third century and for almost a hundred years after that the Church was deeply divided over this false teaching. The emperor Constantine called for a meeting of all the bishops of the Church to settle this question in the year 325 AD, and the Fathers of that council declared Jesus to be true God of true God, begotten but not created and equal to the Father. The truth won out, but even so, many Christians would not accept the teachings of this council. They knew better. They would not submit. And Arianism continued to divide the Church for many decades. St. Paul's warning proved to be true, not only in the case of Arianism, but many, many times throughout the history of the Church, as wolves enter in and cause division among the flock. There are always people who will reject the teaching that comes to us from Christ, through the apostles, in the Church, because they think they know better.
Dividing people, one from another, is a tool that Satan has used from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden to damage mankind and cause every sort of human trouble, and it is a tool that is still effective today,
Now let me say first of all not all division is automatically bad. Certainly not. We need to be able to separate truth from error and right from wrong. We may need to separate some who are criminals in order to protect society. And while an extra large pizza looks great as a whole, it is really hard to eat without dividing it up. Division itself is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it's a good and necessary thing. Yet there is a great deal of evil in this world that, much like it did in the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, separates people from God and from one another.
There are divisions between nations, divisions in the Church, divisions in communities, in families, in marriages and in many other places wherever human beings live. Certainly there is plenty of room for legitimate differences between people, but when I speak of division today, I am talking about thoughts, words, actions and attitudes that falsely separate people from God, and from one another. The greatest fuel for this kind of division comes from the sin of pride, the setting up of myself as better, more worthy, more correct, more valuable, more deserving than other people, and sometimes not even God the Lord needs to be obeyed. In this kind of thought, it's no wonder I might set myself up against other people in order to gain an advantage over them for myself.
So how do we know what kinds of divisions are good or bad, what kind of diversity is healthy or dangerous, what types of separations are helpful or harmful? We can use logic and reason to help us decide, but even more so, we can use the guidance given to us by Christ in His Church, as Jesus says in the Gospel today that His disciples received that truth from Him.
The danger today is when we are encouraged to honor diversity in the sense of accepting some things which are morally evil and declaring them to be nothing worse than a different viewpoint or approach to life—or in the case of euthanasia, a different approach to death. They tell us that by accepting what have always been considered morally evil philosophies and attitudes, we become modern people who need to turn away from the repressive and unenlightened attitudes of 2,000 years of Christian faith and become instead people who choose to include and embrace everyone in a spirit of brotherhood and understanding.
It sounds very good, doesn't it? Being all loving and accepting. Yet when we turn against reason, natural law and divine revelation in order to pretend that we are loving, compassionate and humane towards other people, we can be sure that we are none of the above, and instead we find ourselves cooperating with evil. If we allow ourselves to be coerced or bullied into accepting evil, then truly we should be ashamed, and we do not further the cause of unity but we join the cause of division—the separation of people from God and from one another. We work against love, not for it. We work against the good of mankind. We work against the love of Christ. I was touched by the quote of Blessed Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky that was used in yesterday’s Missionary Days message: “I believe and I know that one word of the Holy Gospel is worth more than all human wisdom, more than all human science.”
I clearly remember about 50 years ago, when the birth control pill became available, there were many in the Church who thought that this was a marvelous invention. Yes, they said, the Church had always forbidden artificial contraception, but these were modern times and science had shown us a better way. The pill would take away the stress of too many children in a family and therefore it would reduce the rate of divorce. To approve of the pill was obviously the compassionate thing to do. They ridiculed Pope Paul for saying it could lead to the legalization of abortion. What happened? We ended up with a much higher rate of divorce and the legalization of abortion in very short period of time. Because when we judge ourselves to be more compassionate than the teaching of Christ, how can we ever expect a good result?
At the same time there is another type of division that is also against the teaching of our Lord. Let us look to ourselves and see whether or not we are a source of unjustified division in our own homes, and with family and friends and neighbors, so that we are not putting ourselves above them, or wrongly and falsely causing separation between them. Instead, let us ask the Lord to help us see where we can truly help to heal the divisions we find in our own lives but without ever sacrificing the truth in order to accomplish it. It requires humility on our part, but He Who showed us the way of perfect humility is always ready to help us.