In John chapter 17, during His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays that all Christians may be one as He and the Father are one. But if you look around, you’ll likely see divisions and factions among Catholics today.
As Cale Clarke pointed out on The Faith Explained, this is nothing new. In a recent episode of his new series “Saints in Sin City,” he noted that when St. Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he was not happy about the divisions he saw in the Church there.
“It’s all about the dissention, the factions that were popping up in the Corinthian church,” Cale said of 1 Corinthians. “This is the most important theme of the letter. Everything else he’s going to talk about from now on stems from this – this lack of unity.”
In Corinth, different divisions had sprung up with cults of personality that various groups rallied behind. Paul writes that he heard reports that “Each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.'”
Cale noted, “Paul is horrified that people say, ‘I follow Paul.’ He is absolutely not cool with this at all.”
So how does Paul respond to this? He reminds them of what their faith is truly based on saying, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
In some ways, it makes sense that different people would be naturally drawn to different faith leaders. People have different personalities, different cultures, and different backgrounds that may draw them to one expression of the faith over the other. But we all need to be united in the one Church.
Cale explained that the words Paul uses illustrates how and why the Church must remain united and undivided. He pointed out that the same word St. Paul uses when he says, “I want you to be united” is the same word in Greek that we see in the Gospel when Jesus calls the sons of Zebedee.
“What are they doing?” Cale asked. “They’ve just come in, they’ve finished their work, and they are mending their nets. The mending of the nets. Stitching it back together. This is exactly what St. Paul wants to do with these different factions of the Church that are really torn apart.”
Cale explained that in the Early Church the image of the Church as a net, and the individual believers as the fish in that net, was very common. When Jesus calls Peter He tells him that he will be a fisher of men. And just as a fisherman can’t catch fish with a hole in his net, we can’t bring people into the net of the Church if that Church is divided.
“In John’s Gospel Peter brings in this great catch, he pulls in this net full of fish,” Cale said. “And yet even though it’s full the net is not torn. The unity of the Church, that’s what is represented there.”
When you look at the way you express your faith is it leading to the unification of the Church or to the promotion of a particular personality? Do you align more with a Catholic speaker on YouTube or with the successors to the apostles? What would St. Paul say if he was writing to your parish today? And how can you work to mend the nets and bring the unity to the Church that Christ desires?