When the Way of Jesus is Not Peace
Have you ever noticed how negative the Prophets in the Bible were? They were tasked with the difficult job of holding the leadership of Israel and Judah to account and this meant that they were more often chastising the people rather than encouraging them. Even Jesus when speaking of the power structures of Israel in His day (mainly religious) spoke out in adverse terms about the leaders and their sins. This same call remains with Christians today and yet day there is almost an exclusive preaching of God’s mercy and love without a sense of God’s justice and our duty to speak out in the face of injustice and evil in our society.
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus says He has not come to bring peace but a sword (Luke 12:49-53). Catholics in America are living in a time when they must also bring a sword—a sword to their leaders, to power structures that stand in the way of the advance of the kingdom. I am often dismayed at how miserable Catholics in the US are at separating what our Church teaches and what are simply ideas of their respective political parties. How many Catholic Democrats will fight openly for immigration reform, to abolish the death penalty, to depress military spending and American Imperialism loudly proclaiming their proximity and love of Church teaching?—all of which is good. And yet on the Church teaching concerning abortion, gay marriage, contraception, and the true meaning of sexuality, embryonic stem cell research, or freedom of religious expression they are at best silent or even openly opposed. At times it appears that they have spent little to no time studying the Church’s teaching on these views and yet they speak out against the Church, the bishops, their pastors, etc. What is more strange is how few Catholic Democrats openly oppose the platform of the Democrat party. Why is it that it seems so much easier to part with one’s Church than with one’s party?
Nevertheless, Catholic Republicans mimic the same actions. A Catholic Republican will speak out against the evils of abortion, yet oftentimes scoff at the Church’s teachings on capital punishment as though it was only any other personal opinion. Liberty is proclaimed loud and clear but immigration reform and immigrants themselves are continually spoken of as evil and a threat to America. Remember how Newt Gingrich was booed when he spoke of treating immigrants with respect and dignity. Fear is sold in bales and war is continually promoted as a way to attain peace. I remember listening in dismay as Catholic Republicans chided John Paul II’s stance on the Iraq invasion as naive and yet going to great and noticeably feeble lengths to defend the Republican President. And yet again why don’t we see more Republican Catholics standing with the Church and against their party in arenas where there is disagreement? It certainly appears that, for many Catholics I have met, their political views cloud their religious convictions.
In my experience, one of the saddest moments of the 2012 race for the presidency was listening to two professed “Catholics” running for the vice presidency trying to explain and defend the church teaching on abortion. It was painful. And yet the next day each party was explaining how their candidate was the most Catholic.
Today’s Gospel reading defines the follower of Christ as one who causes division. I am reminded of the quote from MLK’s Birmingham letter that Christians need to be agitators in the community.
“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”
This means that we are not called to make compromises that diminish the force of the truth but rather cause discomfort and unease as we speak the truth in season and out (2 Tim 4:2). Unfortunately our society often defines our beliefs and then we search for the Christianity that will conform to what our party, work group, or community believes is correct. Christ has already come and comes everyday into our lives in order to divide us from sin. Aristotle once said that he who has no enemies has no friends. If you have no enemies, is it perhaps because you don’t speak the truth loud enough? Is your message one of continual compromise in the face of injustice and sinful behavior?
I am reminded of the words of Qoheleth:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…a time to kill, and a time to heal…a time to break up, and a time to build up…a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3:1-5)
The gospel reading reminds us that we are not to live continual nodding our heads to the injustices and errors in our society. We must stand up and have the courage and integrity to call a spade a spade even if it threatens our way of life and the people we love and respect the most. We must stand up as our Lord and proclaim the life changing Gospel message without shame and without fear.
“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power … Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development.” John Paul II