Sometimes the thought that ‘doing the right thing’ or ‘speaking the truth’ may cost us something, can be intimidating. We look at those who speak out in defence of Church teaching, trying to remind all people, especially Catholics, of the deposit of faith and the commands handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles – and how they are often ignored, ridiculed or rejected simply because the message of the Gospel doesn’t ‘fit in’ with a particular lifestyle or political agenda. How often in our own circumstances do we speak the words, ‘we shouldn’t do that’ or ‘this is wrong’ or even in a more positive way, ‘we should be doing this’? How often have we found ourselves willing to risk being ‘outsiders’, even within our own families, for remaining true to the Faith?
We might think that acting according to our faith may put us on the ‘outs’ with someone close to us can intimidate us or make us uncomfortable. That discomfort can tempt us to do nothing, rather than risk ‘challenging’ someone and ‘causing conflict’. If we react often enough in that way, we end up watering down the gospel, the Church’s teaching, and we lose that missionary zeal to spread the Gospel to all people as Jesus commanded us. We lose that fire, because we are afraid of the consequences.
In today’s gospel from St. Luke, we hear Jesus speak, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the world? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
It’s not that the purpose of Jesus coming among us was to promote conflict – but He knew that, typical of our fallen human nature, His coming and message would result in division among people – even within households. Some would accept His teaching and message, and others would not, sometimes violently opposing His message and those who bear it. This is one of those ‘hard sayings’ of Jesus. We would rather hear the ‘warm and fuzzy’ Jesus that talks about love and peace and green pastures and still meadows.
He is speaking of His impending Passion and Death and subsequent Resurrection; the fire of the Holy Spirit which He will send will engulf the world, consuming evil and inspiring and ‘inflaming’ the hearts of believers to live out the Gospel and spread it among all peoples; speaking the Truth with a ‘missionary zeal’.
We sometimes are lulled into this false sense that in the family dynamic, the ‘perfect’ family is one in which there are no challenges, no disagreements, no turmoil. Reality, however, teaches us that there is often no growth without challenge or struggle. (Anyone who says that there is no ‘conflict’ in the perfect family has never said ‘no’ to a teenager.)
As Christians we are called to hold each other accountable, and to point out error when that error threatens to draw us or someone else further away from the relationship with God that we are all invited into. Typically, though, we don’t like to be corrected. We don’t like to have our errors pointed out to us. If this ‘correction’ is not offered charitably, or accepted in humility, this most definitely can lead to hurt feelings, resentment, and division. Just as typically, we don’t like to correct others out of fear of being thought of us ‘snobbish’ or ‘high-handed’ or even ‘hypocritical’.
In His teaching, Jesus does not tell us to point out error or provide correction in a spirit of malice, being deliberately hurtful or thoughtless, or from some sense of superiority (He knows we all have our own faults and shortcomings).
But He does command His followers to speak and live the Truth, even when that Truth is in conflict with what our world, our culture, our society, even our own family members ,promote or engage in. He gave commandments and teachings, and repeatedly taught that the true mark of His disciples was that they would follow His commandments and teachings regardless of the personal cost; that the true disciple’s first loyalty is to Him above all else, even family, friends and society.
The paradox is that the love given in devoted loyalty to Jesus expresses itself in the care and concern we have for others, in our words and actions. On the other hand, complete devotion to specific people or to a specific culture or society does not often leave room for devotion to Christ.
As Christians we should desire that same fire that Jesus’ longed for! We should yearn for that missionary zeal to live as He lived and to love as He loved, speaking the Truth and deepening our own relationship with God and drawing all people, lovingly, into that relationship. We should hope and pray for the courage to be constant in our own circumstances, charitably challenging each other to live authentically as Catholics, and humbly accepting correction from each other in living out that authenticity.