Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,—Luke 11:14-11:23
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and /quotesaid to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
What a reading for today’s gospel, friends. Today I was given the privilege of discussing one of the most oft-quoted passages in the gospel: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid to waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”
As many of you may know, it’s one of the most famous lines of the gospel, and plenty of theological discussion has been had about just these two verses. It has of course, even seeped into larger popular culture and if you’ve ever seen Seinfeld, you know how it’s mentioned—it’s even reached sitcoms, albeit with the message subverted for some comedic effect. But moving on from my tendency to ramble on or make pop culture references, there are two things to note from today’s gospel reading.
First, note how Jesus rebuffs the townspeople who demand a sign from Him to prove He is from Heaven. Jesus, of course, “knew their thoughts,” and rather than give in to their demands, Jesus simply gave words of wisdom. Jesus, of course, also rebuffs Satan in a similar fashion when He is in the desert for 40 days. (Feed himself and abstain from fasting? No. Christ speaks, “Man does not live on bread alone.” See the temptation of Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)
Rather than forcefully show his divinity to appease people, Jesus speaks the truth as He does to Satan. However, on another dimension, this often reminds me of the relationship we may have with Christ. Do we often make “deals” with Christ to prove He loves us? Do we often “ask for a sign from Heaven?” Have any of us ever prayed for something and claimed we’ll change our ways or stop habits that engender sin if we get something in return? And do we then simply forget to lead lives of virtue not because it was “proven” to us that God loved us, but because we should strive for lives of virtue because loving God is the ultimate good? This focus on virtue is something I want us to keep in mind because it’s significant. Thomas Aquinas cites caritas as “love,” or more specifically, the type of friendship based in the “the love which is together with benevolence, when to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him.” (See Second part of the Second part, Question 23 of Summa Theologica.) Additionally, Aquinas writes that caritas moves us to order our lives properly, gradually leading us to love and desire God for His own sake and nothing else. This “good” and the move towards virtue is what I want to focus on.
Second, God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one and united within the Holy Trinity. We are united with Christ, and we should expect to be in His good graces by living lives of virtue, leading others to Him, and by of course, loving Him. Why else did Christ call for the Great Commission? Well, for one, Christ knows that Satan is the one who causes division. This is especially apt when Christ makes the townspeople ask themselves, “If I drove out the demons by Beelzebul, well ok, how do you do it then?” This of course leaves them speechless. But which division am I speaking of? For some, it could be a loaded question. There is, of course, enough division in the American political sphere but that’s not where I’m going. In my experience, we as Catholics often do not present a united front or send an accurate reflection of our beliefs to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many explanations have been given from time to time for a decline in faith in America—changing cultural practices, postmodernism, inaccurate catechesis, etc. There is no singular answer, and debates rage on. The Lord said to His disciples that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, but we could still lose an untold number of souls if we send often-conflicting messages and signals to others about our beliefs and practices. If the mission of Holy Mother Church is about saving souls, then sometimes we should be aware that how we may act and express ourselves could be sowing division. Even unintentionally!
Disagreements are often messy, but necessary. But I’m not talking about differences in opinion, I’m talking about divisiveness within the larger Church and the family unit. And as you can imagine, it can be an awkward conversation and can stir a lot of passions from a lot of people.
When the fall of man happened, a consequence of original sin was a disruption in our relationship with God. We know this and the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about this as well. We know this almost immediately from reading Genesis because upon eating the forbidden fruit of the tree, Adam does two things. First, he hides from God, because his relationship with the Lord has been disrupted due to sin. Second, he almost immediately blames Eve for his sin. This is something I have often seen in talking to spouses and it’s unfortunate—blaming your spouse for one’s sin. We have to remember—we’re supposed to be helping lead our spouse to Heaven! This is something we often see in families, often a core element of one’s growing up—a lot can be traced to early family life. Even sociologists and adolescent psychologists speak about how a child’s performance in school can be affected due to a messy and turbulent home. I don’t want to quote Jordan Peterson at length or ask your opinion of him, but he’s not exactly wrong when he states that for a lot of men, we have to keep our “house” (literal and metaphorically) in order. If we’re divided against ourselves due to sin or despair, how can we lead lives of virtue?
I’ve spoken at some length previously in prior reflections how one’s home life—however unfortunate—can lead to disruption in the life of faith. Adam refuses to take responsibility for his actions, blames his wife, and he is in essence, a symbolically divided individual. For me, when my father left at an early age, I traced the absence of an earthly father to our Heavenly Father not caring for me. In my experience (at least anecdotally) in talking with other Catholic men, this rings true. An absence of a father, divided families, leads to disruptions in the life of faith and brokenness and woundedness that we then unfortunately (and incorrectly) associate with God not caring or “abandoning us.” Because the adage goes, if we can’t trust an earthly father, how can we trust our Heavenly Father? (We of course can. I am of course not dismissing woundedness in any way.) This then, of course, leads to a symbolic and literal divisiveness in each one of us. That’s divisiveness in the family and in our own lives affecting the life of faith.
However, there is another kind of divisiveness that I see that happens in how we express our thoughts on other Catholics we may disagree with. And I’ve been guilty of doing it a few times just as well. We often lob terms of “liberal” or “conservative” Catholic as insults and pejoratives in the context that we feel certain groups of people are not fully living holy lives. Mind you, however, that’s not to say fraternal correction is never necessary. It absolutely is needed at times. And Church teaching is well, Church teaching for a reason. Doctrine is not subject to change. I don’t have to explain what these terms mean—you’ve all heard some variation of what they mean and simply giving my take on what terms these may or may not mean isn’t instructive in the slightest. Point being—both of them have nuggets of truth, but not in ways you might expect. My larger point? Every Catholic should be “conservative” in that we wish to pass on, live, and conserve sacred truths of the Apostolic and lived faith. Every Catholic should also similarly be “liberal” in that we wish to “liberate” people from sins as Holy Mother Church asks of us so that we all can lead truly holy lives. I’m reminded of my therapist’s tattooed wrists—she tattooed broken chains on her wrists to demonstrate her life of faith was to show that by following Christ, she was choosing a life away from sin. Free of the chains of sins. Liberated.
But why do people use the terms “liberal” and “conservative”? For one, It’s often a woefully convenient (and inconvenient) shorthand in American politics, but it’s not entirely accurate and it unfortunately leads to a lot of divisiveness. One may have “liberal” or “conservative” ways (on a larger level of public policy for example) how best to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. But most people will tell you they want to alleviate poverty and show the poor person Christ’s love. And of course, perform the corporal works of mercy. And why shouldn’t we?
Today’s gospel reading is not lost on me during this time of Lent. Divisiveness leads us away from Christ, Our Lady, and Holy Mother Church. Jesus is not ambiguous or vague. We should put our faith in Him and turn away from lives of sin and turn to Him. Or scatter.