By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, O.P.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus categorically states: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace, but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be of his own household” (Mt. 10:34-35).
We are always talking about peace. But all we come up with are techniques and strategies on how to make peace, as in make love, make money, or make believe. Peace, like happiness, is a by-product of living in truth. Truth is like a sword that, when proclaimed and lived, alienates those who refuse to acknowledge it.
A few years ago, I met a graduate student who was writing a thesis about the ethical conviction of employees in one government agency. One of the questions he asked was: “If you find out that your supervisor is involved in bribery, corruption, and other financial anomalies, will you report this to higher authorities?” The student was shocked to discover that almost everyone answered NO.
The reason for their voluntary silence was even more shocking. They were convinced that reporting to the higher-ups the anomalies committed by their superiors is an act of betrayal, is unethical, and will destroy the peace that they now enjoy in the agency. The graduate student concluded that real peace has been supplanted by a conspiracy of silence to hide the truth. And he wrote that this explains why the agency is considered one of the most corrupt.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that even thieves and criminals can live amicably without enjoying real peace. Their coexistence is based on a compromise that protects their selfish interest. The moral consensus involved is too minimalist and does not satisfy the demands of justice and truth. Authentic peace can only exist when people are willing to speak the truth, even when the truth hurts.
I once read a news item regarding Rev. Tom Swartley, a minister at First Christian Church in Elm Creek who was asked to say the opening prayer at a legislative session in Vermont. The senators were greatly disturbed when he prayed:
“I come, Lord, this morning with a heavy heart. I ask your forgiveness on my fellow Americans who have aborted 47 million babies made in your image since the day I was born. God, forgive us for our complacency. We go to work and school, and come home and watch television, while genocide, infanticide, and homicide are being committed on our own children. Open our eyes, Lord, so we may realize that your command ‘Thou shalt not murder,’ includes the most innocent and unwanted among us. Open our eyes to the gruesome aspects of this 33-year-long bloody nightmare.”
Many of those listening to him were upset and appalled. They accused him of delivering, not a prayer, but a sermon on the evils of abortion.
Swartley did not stop there. He took a swipe at the current trend in American schools of teaching evolution while negating the doctrine on creation. He added: “Forgive us also, Lord, because when we look at our wristwatches, we see intelligent design, yet when we gaze into the incredible complexity of biology and nature, we see not your handiwork, but only chance.”
The senator who invited Swartley, said the pastor had stepped over the line. “You don’t bring those subjects here,” he said. “You’re here to make us feel good.”
Few people respond to a preaching that corrects, reproves, and convicts. They prefer a worship service that makes them feel good and makes it easy to be a Christian. Swartley was brave enough to follow St. Paul’s injunction: “Proclaim the word; be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient; reprimand, encourage through all patience, even if it entails persecution and suffering” (2 Timothy 4:2).