By Fr. Eric Flood, District Superior
“Divide and Conquer,” such is the military maxim for overcoming one’s enemies. It is also used in mathematics to overcome a difficult math problem. If a problem is divided into its simpler parts, the solution to the problem will be more easily mastered. Likewise, when division occurs in society, or a nation, or a family, it results in confusion, conflict, and discord which leads to its being conquered.
In a marriage, when the husband and wife are strongly divided, it is doomed to failure. When a sporting team is composed of members who are too individualistic, the team will not win many games. And in the Catholic Church, when its members are not united to the Faith and morals of Christ, they separate themselves from Christ, His Church, the Pope, or the practice of the Faith. These divisions have resulted in a multitude of heresies and schisms throughout the centuries.
So disastrous is division that even the devils will not remain firm if they are divided, for Christ says, “If Satan is divided against himself, how then shall his kingdom stand?” ( Luke 11:18 ) Furthermore, “Every kingdom divided against itself shall be made desolate: and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” ( Matthew 12.25 ). Divisions, then, not only separate the sheep from the goats, but multiply the number of failed marriages, broken friendships, and wounded relationships.
When any two people are together long enough, some differences will inevitably arise. If the conflict is solved with charity and patience, it will bear fruit in the relationship, but if the conflict is not resolved, it can grow larger, seep into the heart and mind, and culminate in a division.
Being human, then, requires us to learn how to cope with the faults and shortcomings of other people in order to prevent long-lasting divisions. Furthermore, divisions can be averted by forgiving injuries, calumnies, detractions, and accusations. How often are we to forgive our brother? Our Lord says there is no limit to the amount of mercy and compassion we are to have toward other people. Why? Because there has been no limit to the amount of mercy and compassion God has showered upon us. God doesn’t rehash our old sins. He doesn’t hold on to the times we offended Him; rather, He accepted our apology when we went to Confession. Now He expects us to do the same to those who offend us. If, however, we refuse to grant pardon and mercy, we not only widen the division with the other person, but we also increase our separation with our Father in Heaven.
Forgiveness, though, can be difficult to practice. We have emotions which can be deeply hurt, and we have pride which makes us feel disrespected. Both of these can sever our mind or heart against the person, and only grace from God will repair the rift with the person who injured us.
Divisions can occur not only between some humans and others, but also between humans and God. Some have difficulties with God and have decided to separate (divide) themselves from Him. In their eyes, God somehow disappointed them and did not live up to their expectations. Some find His teachings too compassionate, while others find them too difficult to follow. As a result, they do not want a God like the one in Heaven, so they decide to leave Him and try to live a life without Him. They claim that God has failed them or has no real part of their lives. Some will put it this way: “Why did God allow this or that to occur?” or “What has God done for me?” or “Why does God permit all the confusion in the Catholic Church?” These attitudes forget that God is absolutely perfect in everything He does. If God passively permits something in the world and Church, then like Job in the Old Testament, we can at least reason that our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite mind of God.
But what are we to do to prevent division? Our Lord gives insight. After the above-cited passage where Our Lord says that “Every city or house divided against itself shall not stand ( Matthew. 12:25 ),” He asks: “How can any one enter into the house of the strong and rifle his goods, unless he first bind the strong ( Matthew 12:29 )?” Thus, a house will remain undivided if there is strength within it. As virtue is also known as strength, Our Lord is saying that division will not occur in our house (soul) if virtue exists in it. The world and the devil wish to enter a house to bind the person, but if the person is strong (virtuous), the soul will not be divided between the ways of God and the ways of the world. A soul living in union with God and full of virtue will not separate itself from God. As a consequence, the unity with God will flow into a unity with other people.
If we are grounded in humility, we will have the necessary strength to prevent our pride from swelling and provoking a heated argument. If we control our emotions, we will have dominion over the natural anger arising when someone hurts us by his words or actions. And by controlling our pride and emotions, the unavoidable differences which surface with other people will not result in a long-lasting division.
When, therefore, we detect a division in our family, our parish, or among friends, we have two options. First, we can augment the division by adding fuel to the fire with harsh words, a cold shoulder, or a gossipy tongue. However, this will only result in our own heart being rent into two. We will have an uneasiness around others, a timidity around those we have talked about, or a fear of being spoken about.
The other option presented to us when we detect division is to use the virtue God has bestowed upon our soul to hold our tongue, to think only positively about our neighbor, and to show charity in our behavior towards others. By doing so, division will not be victorious, but virtue will heal the wound.
This article originally appeared in the October 2008 North American District Fraternity Newsletter. To receive our free newsletter by mail, please visit our subscription page.