The feeling that you are at odds with a beloved member of your family over religious or moral points of view is a special kind of sadness. We all want to be of one mind & heart with those who are closest to us concerning the most important issues of life. When we discover that we are not, it’s as if a chasm has opened up between us. We find it disturbing that this other person does not see things the way we do.
It’s apparent that Jesus foresaw that possibility and accepted responsibility for it. He said, Don’t think that I’m here to establish peace among you. Quite to the contrary, I will be the cause of serious divisions, side-taking, bitter arguments, and long-lasting separations right within your families.
But why? It’s much easier to understand when it is a case of two opposing camps, one of which accepts Jesus and the other rejects him. But when, instead, it involves good and sincere people on both sides of the issue at hand who acknowledge Jesus as their savior, who listen eagerly to his gospel and try to live by it, it’s difficult to identify the cause of division and dissension.
But isn’t that what is happening today? The conspicuous crucifix on the young, leather-clad motorcyclist, for example, may mean something entirely different from the gold cross around the neck of his grandmother. Those two persons very likely represent two different approaches to Jesus, two different interpretations of his gospel. And yet there is only one Jesus, one cross, one gospel.
To muddy the waters further, Jesus says, I have come to divide you, even mother against daughter.
What is he saying? I think he is saying that loyalty to him and his gospel will sometimes require of us that we stand up firmly, whatever the personal cost may be, and respectfully confront persons who we think are not really following him either deliberately or mistakenly, but in either case are badly misunderstanding his teachings.
We simply have to be willing to antagonize others unintentionally in our common pursuit of truth.
And, of course, it all comes down to conscience once again, personal conscience. We Catholics have not been taught or encouraged to follow our consciences in making important decisions affecting ourselves and others. We were taught instead that the highest virtue is that of unwavering obedience to the authority of the church. And so I remind you once again, and over & over, that the official church itself now teaches, at its highest levels, that each of us must work diligently at forming as good a conscience as we can and then must follow its direction even when that conflicts with the official teachings of the church.
Most people, I find, welcome that major change in our individual responsibility; a much smaller number of faithful Catholics do not accept it. It seems to them to be a much too radical departure from the past. I hope that you are peaceful about it and grateful for it and that you recognize it as the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our time.
We are constantly growing in age and wisdom and grace before God and others.