Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51). His words were difficult to understand. He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next. Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth? How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?
Jesus placed an enormous value on peace. He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace. He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony. He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).
Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5). When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14). When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48). Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50). Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5). On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33). After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace. He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.
How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b). Jesus hates conflict. So do we. Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble. But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry. When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?” Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart. Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.
The divisions are multigenerational. Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53). In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues. Conversations can be heated. Feelings often are hurt. This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.
Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not. Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.