We have a much-ignored aspect of Jesus' teaching set before us in our Gospel reading today, my brothers and sisters in Christ, so let me recall His words for you:
Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
And not, indeed, any ordinary sort of division, but the most fundamental and hurtful division:
For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
How do these words of Jesus fit in with those modern political agendas seeking to obliterate social expressions of cultural difference and concentrating on legal and statistical equality, even uniformity? Jesus' words, of course, do not fit in with such an attitude to life. And yet, there are very many who pride themselves on measures promoting a society wherein everybody is supposed to be able to live together with anybody in mutual appreciation, satisfaction, peace and prosperity, because all that can differentiate is set aside as unimportant or fundamentally wrong in comparison with the great good of an ideological and statistically verifiable equality, a world, ultimately, built on and governed by only such principles and standards as a majority can readily accept and easily apply.
These visionaries’ knowledge of human nature, however, is strictly limited and they think nothing positive at all about human destiny, and so their prescriptions for ‘ordinary citizens’ life together in society leads quickly to a situation wherein the lowest common denominator naturally prevails:
abortion has to be accepted as OK because many want it and most of those who don't want it are afraid of seeming to be unkind or inconsiderate;
likewise, marriage is best, of course; but surely any sort of loving relationship must be regarded as quite acceptable, because, after all, marriage can make such demands on the married couple, whereas other relationships -- for those with different ideas and different psychological make-up -- appear to be totally appropriate for the individuals concerned and should therefore be regarded as equally commendable for the good of society as a whole;
crime is bad, of course, but punishment can seem to be unloving, even vengeful, so let us water-down punitive justice, pay lip-service only to restorative justice for past victims, and forget altogether about prospective victims endangered by our proud compassion and criminals’ more hoped-for than established contrition.
This option for as little differentiation as possible and no distinction at all is the easy beginning of a landslide that can soon develop into a headlong and, ultimately, irresistible avalanche capable of destroying human society like the herd of Gadarene swine in the Gospel story; for moral indifference gradually breeds citizens who regard society as nothing more than the milieu where they can find personal pleasure and draw personal profit from contacts (and contracts!) with others. In the wilderness thus created attitudes involving or invoking individual morality and social responsibility soon come to be regarded as follies of the past, whilst anarchy is seen, by a growing fringe, as the truly modern vision which alone can offer full personal expression and true human freedom for everyone.
However, although rationalist manipulation can never build a truly human society, nevertheless, the requirements of charity, ‘good will among men‘ – something absolutely essential for any such enterprise -- would seem to find those words of Jesus most disconcerting:
Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.
If we face up to this difficulty instead of trying to ignore it, we find that the solution leads to a better understanding. The demands of charity are real, and for Christians they are supreme, but we can never rightly appreciate those demands until we have first come to understand the true nature of Christian charity.
Is it always and necessarily opposed to division? If we think of charity as just getting on with other people, then, obviously, charity and division are incompatible. Christian charity, however, is a gift from God; a sharing in that love which is the very life of God, the bond of living love uniting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christian charity is, by the gift of God, our sharing in such heavenly love come down to earth, whereby the Father has sent His beloved Son among us to save us from our sins; the Son Who, in the power of His Holy Spirit, enables us to begin to live here on earth for a heavenly fulfilment, to live as children of God, according to principles that are divine. Whereas those who seek to promote a humanly-concocted society think that agreement and oneness is the all important aim, we who are Christians hold that "oneness in Christ" is the only true solution to the needs of mankind, the only programme that can lead to a fully human society and a divine destiny.
Now this understanding of Christian charity as an offshoot from, or better, an anticipatory participation in, divine charity can -- under certain circumstances -- involve and even require earthly division as envisaged in our Gospel reading:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Mt. 10:37)
In certain situations we must put God first and loved-ones second: a choice that can indeed bring about division in family life and in society. And yet, such earthly division must never be allowed to break the rule of fraternal charity even here on earth; for, whilst Jesus unequivocally demands:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind;
He also, at the same time, tells us that there is a second commandment which is like the first and which demands that:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:37, 39)
Where father or son, mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, would lead in ways that turn aside from God and depart from Jesus' clear teaching, then indeed Jesus can bring division, for:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (10:37)
In all this, however, it is not personal hatred or ill-feeling that would divide us from others, but solely love for Jesus; love for that Jesus Who will never allow us to forget what we owe to our parents and family, or set aside love for our neighbour. In all this, it is simply a matter of the greater love prevailing in circumstances where the lesser love is never to be denied.
Where love of God transcends all other loves, it can embrace and transform any earthly divisions; human oneness, on the other hand, does not always express divine love, and without that divine content it is not able to truly express brotherly-love or fully promote human well-being. Because of this, Christians are always obliged to seek -- first and foremost -- not human oneness, but love of God.
Because of His supreme love for His Father Jesus provoked division:
One of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us!’ But the other, answering, rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:39-43)
Thus Jesus, even to the very end, walked faithfully the way of the Cross. Today, however, there are too many Christians who fear such a way, and who consequently persuade themselves that they are doing right when they distort Christian teaching in order to promote human agreement.
Jeremiah provoked opposition, as you heard in the first reading. In the beginning of his career he had been afraid to speak divisive words, even though those words were God's own words. God took him the by the scruff of his neck, so to speak, and told him:
Therefore prepare yourself and arise, and speak to them all that I command you. Do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them. (Jeremiah 1:17)
In other words: ‘Let yourself be afraid again, and I will give you good reason to be afraid! Stand up now, and be prepared and ready for whatever comes!’ Such indeed is the message many Catholics need to hear today, that is, many of those who, from fear of human opposition and human divisions, would rather try to water down, hold back, change, Catholic teaching in order to accommodate modern attitudes and bring as many as possible into the pseudo-fold of comfortable conformity. Such attempts can only fail because their promoters are seen to be not only faithless but also proud, since it is God the Father alone Who brings those He has called, to the one true fold of Jesus (John 6:44):
No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him.
Our job, as disciples of Jesus in Mother Church, is to witness to the true Jesus before the world, and for that purpose Mother Church has been guaranteed the presence of the Holy Spirit to lead her into all truth about Jesus by bringing the fullness of His teaching to her mind. The integral and authentic proclamation of, the faithful promotion of and humble witness to, the truth of Jesus is the whole function and purpose of Mother Church and her children in this world. We must neither seek nor promote human differences because Jesus has commanded us, quite unequivocally:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)
However, we are not to fear such divisions overmuch, because human differences that arise out of love of God are capable of being healed by that very love of God.
Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, we must always bear in mind the words we heard in the second reading:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
The great Greek doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, lived in the 4th century, and because he was famous as a preacher -- being popularly known as the golden-tongued one (that is what Chrysostom means) -- was raised to the supreme dignity of patriarch in the imperial city. Nevertheless he refused to curry favour by preaching what the emperor and his courtiers wanted to hear, and consequently was banished, and ultimately died in exile for His witness to Christ.
This great saint, who practiced what he preached, commenting on those words of Our Lord:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Matthew 5:13)
says in one of his sermons:
Jesus tells His disciples “unless you are prepared to face up to opposition, you have been chosen in vain.” Do not fear evil words, but do fear lest you yourselves should share in the pretences of others. For then, “You will become like tasteless salt, and be trodden under foot.” However, if you resolutely refuse to back down before them, and then hear people speaking against you, rejoice; for this is what salt is for, to sting the corrupt, and make them smart Of course, they will blame you but that won't harm you, on the contrary, it will be a testimony to your firmness. But if through fear of such opposition and blame you fail to live up to the steadfastness of a true disciple of mine, you will have to suffer much more grievously, for it will not be just a small matter of some people speaking against you but a case of being rightly despised by everyone. For this is the meaning of ‘trodden under foot.’
We who are Catholics today do not have to face up to Emperors and their cronies, as did St. John Chrysostom, but we do face a world both fearful and hostile. We have been given a wonderful privilege, the true faith, and we are called to be witnesses to the truth of Jesus and His Church. Let us resolve to show our gratitude for God's gift by trying to prove faithful to our calling: witnessing to the Faith by neither fearing opposition nor currying favour.