Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Not Peace, but Division

Not Peace, but Division

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.  From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Lk. 12:51-53)
These words of Jesus come from this past Sunday’s Gospel.  This reading is definitely one of those that makes people uncomfortable, especially people who are used to a sterilized reading of the Bible.  How can Jesus say that He has come to separate families?  Don’t we value family as Christians?  Shouldn’t we desire peace in our families?  Why would Jesus want to injure our most intimate human relationships?
Well, of course Jesus doesn’t desire strife in families.  As Catholics, we value family, and take seriously family obligations, as much as anyone, and more than most.  So how are we to understand this Gospel, or apply it to our lives?
I’m sure your parish priest gave an excellent answer to this question on Sunday, but I want to look at only one angle of it.
Often in Scripture, Jesus shows the incredible value of something by highlighting the goods that must be sacrificed for it.  So, for example, we know how exalted celibacy is because of the great good of marriage, which is sacrificed for its sake.  Jesus tells us that our devotion to Him must surpass even that to our own families, which has always been held as one of the highest goods, among both Christians and Jews.
An encounter with Jesus demands a choice.  How will we respond to Him?  Because our relationship with Him is even greater than those with our families, it can not be sacrificed for family peace.  In the passage above, Jesus makes clear exactly what we must be willing to suffer for His sake.
Of course, God offers grace to our families.  They are an image of His, and we should desire true peace in our families, a peace cemented by a mutual love of God.
But many Catholics suffer because that peace has not been realized in their families.  Often it is the faithful members who are blamed.  Their devotion to Jesus (“religious fanaticism” is how it will probably be characterized) has caused the division.  They are rigid, unwilling to compromise their values for the sake of the demands of their less faithful family members.
This can begin to wear, not only on the emotions of a Christian, but even on his conscience.  Is it true?  Am I a fanatic, who is causing strain in the family, the very family that God so values?  Am I unreasonable for being faithful to my principles when it would be so much easier for everyone if I just compromised my values a little?
Sunday’s Gospel answers with a resounding, “NO!”  Our consciences need not be troubled.  Jesus tells us that this is the price we may have to pay for our faithfulness.  And He makes it clear that it is a price worth paying, a price that we must be willing to pay.
Now, of course, we should examine our attitudes and motives, and whether our practice of our Faith can be characterized by authentic charity.  But we should never be ashamed of being uncompromising with our values. Who knows?  Perhaps our fortitude will be the instrument God uses to bring our families true peace, in Heaven.