The Good Friday sermon by P. Raniero Cantalamess O.F.M.Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household, is of course addressed to Catholics. However, as Evangelical Christians, parts of what he says is applicable to us as well and should make us reflect on how we deal with each other, especially where differences of opinion on worldly matters are concerned:
What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.
In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.
I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).
We need to learn from Jesus’ example and the Gospel. He lived at a time of strong political polarization. Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other. The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it. Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’. The Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.
This problem, that a political ideology or opinion becomes so important in some Christians’ minds that they forget or neglect charity and brotherliness in the way they relate to other Christians, is by no means limited to Catholics but is alive and well among us Evangelicals.
In our communities, too, the shepherds (and that is what “pastor” means) need to care for the whole flock and should therefore, as much as possible, steer clear of political controversy; in our communities, too, as Christians and citizens it is our task to translate the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different ways, always in a respectful and peaceful way.
That we need to be reminded of this became especially clear during the four years of the Trump presidency, in the context of Brexit and similar controversies in other countries, as well as in our response to the Covid pandemic and the restrictions in response to it.