– José Maria C.S. André

Catholics confess, at least at Sunday Mass during the Creed, that they believe in the one and holy Church. But, given all the protests that we hear, one wonders what this unity means.

The Pope’s comment is that “[t]he first reassurance we have comes from the fact that Jesus prayed so much for the unity of the disciples. This is the prayer of the Last Supper, in which Jesus insistently asks: ‘Father, that they may all be one’.”

Jesus prayed so demandingly for unity that the Church cannot fail to be united. So, what happens? History presents us with wonderful examples of harmony, as well as the suffering of disunity.

The Pope continues: “The Acts of the Apostles reminds us that the first Christians distinguished themselves by the fact of being ‘of one heart and soul’ (Acts 4:32); the Apostle Paul, then, exhorted his communities not to forget that they ‘are one body’ (1 Cor 12:13). However, experience tells us that there are so many sins against unity.”

There is a mystery in this mix of wheat and tare. Why does Jesus tell in this parable that the devil sowed tares among the Church’s wheat field and yet we should not cut the tares? Why should the tares remain in the Church to stain the purity of the good wheat?

Many people demand that the Pope and the bishops expel the tares. Why does Jesus not seem to agree with a comprehensive sanitation of the Church?

Pope Francis proposes an examination of conscience: “In the face of all of this, we must make a serious examination of conscience. In a Christian community, division is one of the gravest sins, because it makes it a sign not of God’s work, but of the devil’s work, who is by definition the one who separates, who destroys relationships, who insinuates prejudice…”

This recommendation from the Pope makes us think of the danger that the enemy has sown tares in OUR hearts. If tares were sown outside, we could take drastic measures to contain the infestation. The problem is that perhaps the seed of division is inside the soul. I think that is why the Pope says “we must make a serious examination of conscience.”

The tares that poison our souls hide themselves when we try to discover them: criticism is justified because they misbehaved; we criticize others to correct them; they should even thank us; perhaps our criticism should be even more bitter. Long live our criticism, so holy! The same indignation of the apostles vibrates in us such as when they came across a village that refused to receive them: “Master, do you want us to send fire from heaven and consume them?” Jesus burst out laughing and called those disciples, with sympathy and good humor, “Sons of Thunder.”

When we carry out a serious examination of conscience, Jesus shows us that it is not for us to punish the world, but to love it. We can help those who are mistaken if we love them. With the same amused smile, will Jesus gently pull the tare from our hearts?

Pope Francis goes on: “God, instead wants us to develop the capacity to welcome, to forgive and to love each other, to be ever more like Him, who is communion and love. The Church’s holiness consists in this: in recognizing herself in God’s image, showered with his mercy and his grace.”

Unity is so related to holiness, to the point that St Josemaría Escrivá said that they are the same thing (homily “In Love with the Church”).

Fortunately, the examination of conscience that the Pope suggests is not painful. It is a blessing of peace, for us and for the Church:

–“Dear friends, let these words of Jesus resound in our hearts: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Mt 5:9). Let us ask sincerely for forgiveness for all the times in which we have caused division or misunderstanding …, knowing well that communion is not achieved except through constant conversion.”

This time of Lent, of continuous conversion, of examination of conscience, is a good opportunity to revisit these considerations of Pope Francis during the audiences with the pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, meditating the mystery of the Church, in 2014. The texts quoted are from the audience of 27 August 2014.

(Photo shows audience in St Peter’s Square.)