While the following article is a work of fiction from an experienced story-teller and poet, the sentiments it contains doubtless reflect what many good bishops have said from time to time. Fr John O'Neill is a parish priest in the Parramatta Diocese, NSW.
My brother priests, there is no denying that there has been worldwide division among the clergy. Presumably sincere, educated and experienced men are in strong opposition to each other, and in vital matters which are of the essence of our Catholic Faith, even such things as the Resurrection of Christ, the nature of the Eucharist, Christian morality, content of religious education, and many more. Sadly, we now have terms like conservatives and progressives, liberals and reactionaries, trendies and the old-fashioned.
There is one Jesus Christ, and he is what he is, independent of what man thinks about him. "Christ yesterday, today and the same forever." It struck me as odd that there are all these opinions about him and his teaching and his actions, as if it was up to us to decide about Jesus and his claims, to decide about God's very nature and the kind of relationships he has with us.
Unity in truth
Unity must come from the truth that there is one individual Christ, who taught and commanded definite things for our happiness' sake, even beyond this world. Then, because he and his teachings are for all mankind, he provided an identifiable and secure means of having his presence and his work continue in the world. This means his Church, of course.
Whence disunity? I think it could be that the central issue is not grasped, and Christ is the issue. The fullness of unity demands accepting Christ in all his fullness, as he is, and not as people might think or want him to be. We should, as his priests, be at the epicentre of unity, united in belief and in grace.
I like to think of the apostles on that morning after his resurrection, the day they caught the one hundred and fifty-three big fish, and he was cooking their breakfast for them. Who could imagine the happiness they had, being together with him and trying to grasp the implications of his death and resurrection? I hope we priests will never be embarrassed about a personal friendship with Jesus Christ. We can easily see where disunity can come from: namely, being wrong about Christ.
I think the greatest need is to have humility of mind. Properly understood, this essential virtue is not going to weaken a man or take away his confidence: it is going to strengthen him. If Shane Watson turns up to show a young lad a few things about batting, he would be foolish to start trying to teach Shane. The boy would be excited at the prospect of being coached by one of the greats. His humility might one day make him a champion. The human race, though it might be very difficult, could get by without cricket, but it is essential to us, and to unity, to let Jesus Christ, as he truly is, was and will be, to coach us into perfection of charity.
Unity among people, and especially among Christ's priests, is not human in its origin or its nature. It is sharing Divine Charity in the One who is divine and human.
May I draw some conclusions from all this?
Because the authority of Christ continues in his Church, let us have that humility to accept the Church's - Christ's - authority, and so have true freedom, so "that mind may be in us which was also in Christ Jesus."
Let the mind of Christ grow in us by love of God's Commandments.
Let that obedience show itself by our unity with Christ's Vicar and the Holy See.
Let it show itself in fidelity to the Church's liturgical norms and her Canon Law.
Let it show itself even in our being legitimately proud to wear clerical dress.
My brother priests, let it show itself in Christ growing in each of us. We can experience what he promised his first priests, in the context of the Father's love for him and them: "I have told you these things that my joy may be in you." And this is not some passing sentimentality: it is sharing in what is of the essence of God - his joy, something far deeper than human sentiment, something, indeed, which is eternal.
"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another." We his priests, more than anyone, have to show this to the world, because of his priesthood that we share. The world needs something more than human to lift it up. That something is Divine Charity. Christ the High Priest is the source of that Divine Charity. We, his priests, by what he gives us in Ordination, are Christ to the world today, and the world needs to see his Charity in and among us, and then, receive it from us, especially through the Bread of Life.
What Life? God's Life, the Life of his Love, his Charity.
May we never be discouraged by our own shortcomings or failures. Let us take courage, for Christ "has overcome the world."