Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sixth Sunday of Easter: 2016

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

A great part of our anxiety about the impending Presidential Election – can anyone really doubt that there is a great deal of anxiety about it? – is that we are at war and none of the front runners, not to mention the back runners, seem to have a clue what to do about it. In the past we have managed to keep the threat of our enemies well away from our shores, but this war is waged well behind our front lines, in our own backyard. What is the answer? Diplomacy? All out military action? Appeasement? Sanctions? Closed borders? We cannot even agree on what to call the enemy. We cannot even agree on who the enemy is. We are like people, who while the house burns down,  discuss how big the fire  actually is, should they call the Fire Department, exactly how do put out a fire, and who set this fire anyway.

We should  hope that somehow diplomacy will work, but it is not clear at all what could be the basis of a negotiated peace, what exactly the other side wants. Still less is it clear with whom we should negotiate. Not to mention the fact that there are such fundamental differences about  how to respond to this situation that it seems unlikely that there will be peace anytime soon.  But say that treaties were signed, would that be peace? At best it would be temporary. There has never been in human history a treaty that lasted.Even if should endure we are still stuck with our separation from God, our divided selves and our failure to love one another.

 It is in this context, then and now, that Jesus speaks not to the world but to the Church:  my peace I give you: Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  

 In the vocabulary of Christian Faith it is always the little words that confuse us: words like faith itself, love, hope, sin, mercy, judge, truth and so forth. And certainly one of these little words is the word which Jesus speaks to his Apostles and to us in the Gospel this Sunday: peace. In fact Jesus explicitly says we are likely to get it wrong: not the peace as the world gives do I give to you. Not the peace that the politicians promise us. O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man; for there is no help in them. Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; * but we will remember the Name of the LORD our God. They are brought down and fallen;but we are risen and stand upright. David says, that is Jesus says.

 In English, the word "peace" is passive; it means not the presence of something but the absence of something, the absence of war, hostility, civil strife or a personality free from internal and external strife. The biblical concept is quite different: the Hebrew word for peace shalom means not the absence of strife but the exact opposite: to be complete, to possess the whole of something. The Greek word eirene used to translate shalom means possessing the good that comes from God alone.

This is the word Jesus uses in the Gospel and it is this kind if peace that Jesus is talking about. It is certainly not the absence of strife, hostility or violence because this word is spoken ‘in the night in which he was betrayed.” What follow after the word of Jesus is hardly the absence of strife but  mob violence, betrayal, verbal abuse, physical torture, and finally an horrific death. Yet Jesus says “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you.” So  the peace which belongs to Jesus and which he gives to us is the Peace of the Cross. As St. Paul says: “making peace by the blood of his cross”. " For he is our peace, who has made us  one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility"

Inevitably this seems subjective, emotional, individualistic, socially and culturally and politically lame and irresponsible, disconnected from the great public, systemic, global crises and calamities of our time. That’s likely what you think when you hear that the Lord of the universe spent his last night before death proclaiming peace. We are also in the night in which are betrayed because whoever wins the election is sure to betray us one way or another. We can thank divine providence for showing once again the poverty and impotence of politics. Of course we should vote, participate in the political life of our country, but we should do so without illusions. A Christian’s loyalty to political solutions is always provisional and skeptical. We cannot be sucked into the endless rancor of political discourse, where nothing is true and everything is permitted.

The failure of worldly peace is because true peace, Christian peace, involves a three-fold gift: peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with one another. The best the world can give is a third of that and that third only temporarily.

Making peace one soul at a time seems silly and unworkable but it cannot be more ineffective than worldly peace. Besides at least we have evidence that it works in the lives of the saints, and not just the saints that in the liturgical calendar. I see all the time around here. 

Confession after confession folks make peace with God, make peace with themselves, make peace with one another.  People who had lost their faith return to Mass. People who carry heavy burdens of guilt are forgiven and reconciled not only to God but to themselves. People who despised one another are reconciled.

Does it make a difference in the world? How can it not? 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

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