During the past day, there has been a lot of speculation in the media about what Pope Francis said yesterday before the Wednesday General Audience: “I ask forgiveness for the scandals that have taken place both in Rome and in the Vatican.”
Since the Pope did not go on to speak about what those scandals were, most media sources have focused simply on the various sexual scandals. These are grievous, to be sure.
However, I think it is possible that the Pope was also speaking more broadly, including about the divisions that have become visible during the course of the Synod on the Family.
I think of what Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. once observed in a series of talks he gave entitled Community Transformed. In the fourth talk, “Communal Existence,” Father Dubay comments on what St. Paul said about divisions in the early Christian community. Here’s an excerpt:
A divided community… is worldly and immature, and it’s divided by sin.
I used to think… that when people are divided… about basic theological things – realities that God has revealed and the moral code and so on – that some people have pondered more than others or they are more intellectual or more intelligent or have a higher IQ and so therefore they’re divided and disagree with one another. I’ve changed my mind because of what the New Testament says and also realizing what’s involved here.
Let’s take a look at a couple of texts… and we will see that a divided community is indeed immature. At least somebody in it is immature.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul begins to talk about their divisions, and he can’t tolerate that they go on. They have to be healed. He’s still on the subject of their divisions when we get to chapter 3. And in verses 1 to 3, we read Paul saying this to them: “Brothers (sisters), I myself was unable to speak to you as people of the Spirit.” (Namely, the Holy Spirit… you’re not of the Holy Spirit… and I couldn’t talk to you as though you were because you weren’t.) “I treated you as sensual men.” Sensual here means worldly, or as Paul says it, “men of the flesh” which means not simply sexual sins… he’s talking more broadly. Their mind is of the spirit of this world. “And I treated you that way because you weren’t ready for anything more deep or lofty. You were still infants in Christ. What I fed you with was milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it, and indeed you still are not ready for it, since you are unspiritual.” (Meaning: you’re still worldly, Corinthians… at least many of you are.) And then he comes to explain how he knows that they are worldly and immature. “Isn’t that obvious,” says Paul, “from all the jealousy and wrangling that there is among you? From the way that you go on behaving like ordinary people? What could be more unspiritual (worldly) than your slogans: ‘I am for Paul, and I am for Apollos.’” In other words, Paul is saying: I know you’re worldly, I know you’re immature, I know that there is sin operating here… and how do I know it? You’re deeply divided.
Galatians 5:19-22. “When self indulgence is at work,” says Paul, “the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility, idolatry and sorcery, feuds and wranglings, jealousy, bad temper, quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and similar things.” That’s quite a list of sins. And they are whoppers, too. Now what I would like you to notice here is that in this list of serious sins – making all kinds of things into idols and rejecting the living God (idolatry, sorcery, sexual irresponsibility, drunkenness, orgies even) – in that list you’ve got two words: disagreements and factions. That’s shocking if you don’t realize the necessity of being of one mind and heart in marriage and in religious life and priesthood and all the rest of it. It’s very bad news. In other words, in that list of very serious sins are disagreements and factions about basic realities.
The whole Community Transformed series is well worth listening to, as it provides a great deal of wisdom about what the Gospel says about Christian life in community, whether that be marriage, religious life, a parish, or any other primary community.