Jesus declares “I have come not to establish peace but division.” How could the Prince of Peace say that? Didn’t he also tell his disciples “Peace is my gift to you”? Didn’t he pray that his disciples “all be one”? Does Christ purposefully sow controversy and division? Certainly traumatic division wracked Star of the Sea parish and school last year, precisely over what Jesus’ Church teaches on abortion, marriage, and gender identity.
It all depends on what you mean by “peace.” Jesus gives us his peace; “not as the world gives peace do I give peace.” His peace is based on truth, and sometimes (oftentimes in our society) truth exposes unseen but toxic divisions. The truth is that an unborn child is human, but many Catholics don’t want to talk about the fact that killing these children is legal in our country. The truth is that one’s sex is a fact of nature not a human choice, but we pretend otherwise. The truth is that there is a God, and I am not he. These eternal truths often split families right down the middle. The Gospel today challenges us to engage these issues rather than ignore them, even at the cost of division. Facing first principles and final ends about human nature is not easy in a society that has lost much of both its faith and reason, but it’s the only path to real peace. A disciple is prepared to forgo superficial peace in order to reach the deeper peace of eternal truths.
When your husband belittles religion, or your nephew choses to call himself a woman, or your children support a “woman’s right to choose” [the death of her child], how can one work toward peace with them without denying essential truths?
Healing Division through Love
I think some members of our community have found a way. They’ve been going out to the streets every other Sunday to engage folks at the Clement Street Farmer’s Market with a joyful Christian witness. The initiative is called St. Paul Street Evangelization, a movement started in 2007 by a man in Portland and now in over 200 cities worldwide. Listen to their report from last Sunday’s witness on Clement Street after the 9:30 Mass:
“Mariella spoke with a food vendor who was raised Catholic but no longer practices because he said he finds Mass boring. Mariella gave him a rosary and told him she would be back to speak with him further on our next outing. He was open to that and was going to give us free food when the market closed. Lorna spoke to a mother with her baby, Annalise, who said her husband got mad at the Church and now refuses to allow Annalise to be baptized. She asked for prayers since her heart is broken that her child is not baptized.
“Our own children were excellent, so persistent and positive. Almost everyone who rejected medals from the adults took them from the children. They could not resist. One man, a non-believer, asked, "Did Jesus tell you to hand these out today?" And the children said, "YES!" emphatically and positively. Another man rejected a medal from Summer only to come back 20 minutes later to say, "I changed my mind. May I have one please?" Joseph handed out stickers with stuff like "I love Jesus" on them to anyone who would take them. Because he is so little and so adorable, almost everyone took a sticker. At one point all of the children came up to a little boy sitting in a little wagon and asked if he wanted a rosary and a sticker. Of course, the little boy was delighted to have so many friends around him, and his mother (a fallen away Catholic) was so touched that she happily obliged. Little Joseph asked a male couple if they wanted a sticker. He showed them his selection, and they eventually choose a cartoon of a frog and the words Fully Reliant On God. He also offered them the cookies, which they politely declined, but were very nice about it. Then Summer said, "Have a sweet day!" It was all very touching.”
Divisions overcome by childlike simplicity
We first approach those who do not believe fully in the Gospel with a simple, childlike acceptance. That is why little children are so helpful to St. Paul Street Evangelization. Only after a certain trust is achieved will we talk about deeper, divisive questions. We approach all with the childlike love of Our Lady, who helps us as we hand out silver miraculous medals and pretty rosaries. Hearts melt when Our Lady and her little children speak to them; they open a little to receiving the truths that are more difficult to accept. I can hardly believe this marvelously simple and effective witness to Jesus is happening right in our neighborhood! It gives me hope that indeed, we can overcome the divisions the Gospel brings about, so that we can attain at last the deeper unity only Christ can bestow on our human community.