At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. “And coming straight up out of the water he saw the heavens split open (schizomenous) and the spirit like a dove coming down onto him.” (Mark 1:10)
The word schizo in Greek generally implies splitting apart, and is the root of our English words schizophrenia, or the splitting of the mind, as well as the word schism – the splitting off or splitting apart of a group. In school we learn about the Great Schism of 1054, when the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople excommunicated each other, leading to the formation of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. Members of Inclusive Catholic communities are often called “schismatics” in a derogatory fashion. “You’re breaking apart the Church,” is a common accusation.
When asked about American Catholic traditionalists, Pope Francis said in a September 2021 interview, “I pray there are no schisms. But I am not afraid.” He continues to speak out against intolerance and exclusion, capitalism and climate change, while treating his critics with tenderness, because “they are going through their own problems.”
As radially inclusive Catholics on the other end of the spectrum from our traditionalist siblings, how should we approach the possibility of schisms? Perhaps a closer look at the word as it is used in Mark’s Gospel can offer some insight.
In the ancient world, a divine announcement required the rending of the heavens, the splitting apart of the sky so that a heavenly messenger could approach the earth. The Greek philosopher Himerius wrote that a pure soul traveled from the house of Zeus in this way, splitting the heavens apart so that the divine nature could be revealed. Clearly, this is what is happening in Mark’s Gospel. A “schism” in the heavens allows the Spirit, the sacred Breath of God, and later the actual Voice of the Divine Mystery, to make itself visible, audible, apparent to humanity.
So Francis is wise not to fear schisms, openings through which the breath of God arrives. In this same way, inclusive Catholics should not fear being called “schismatics.” Christ is broken open in the Eucharist. The Word of God is broken open each time we truly hear and proclaim the Gospel. In the words of Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack – a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
As long as we breathe the breath of love into that crack, as long as we remember that we are truly all one in Christ, we will hear the voice coming through the schism, proclaiming, “You are all my beloved children.”