Fr. Paul's Homily
There are written accounts of early Christians being martyred in the Coliseum in Rome. In these accounts we can read about how the early martyrs would enter the coliseum, often times singing songs of praise to God. Even though they realized that the wild animals could be released upon them at any moment, these Christian men and women would sing with conviction and joy. This so impressed the spectators, who were accustomed to the condemned pleading for their lives, that they were not sure how to react. All they knew was that these Christians were different and they had something that allowed them to face death without fear. What was the source of such peace?
And we heard in the gospel, “While they were still speaking, Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.” With these words we hear of this tremendous gift of peace. In this greeting Jesus gives a gift in the upper room after the resurrection; the gift of peace. Let’s talk about this.
The peace of Christ is much more than the absence of conflict. We all know the feeling when all is peaceful around the house. Perhaps all the kids are in bed, or maybe a conflict with another in the house has been resolved, and we settle into our recliner, thankful for a peaceful evening. This kind of peace is wonderful when there is no immediate conflict going on. This kind of peace is often connected with quiet and serene.
When we use the word “peace” in relationship to nations, it is usually when there is no conflict. Today, throughout the world, there are 39 countries that are in armed conflict, many of these in Africa and Asia. Conflict is common among nations, and this does not include all the deadly conflicts that exist in our own country in our cities. Conflict is all around us, yet what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Peace be with you” is different from the absence of conflict. After all, the disciples had to deal with many conflicts after the resurrection, yet they shared in a unique peace from Christ. So what is this “Peace” that Jesus offered?
The gift of peace is first a GIFT. This is more than the typical Jewish greeting of Shalom. At one point Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” So this peace is something that Jesus had and something he wants to share with us. In other words, it is a gift.
If I would ask our grade school kids what is the greatest gift they had received, they would probably say something like, “My Xbox.” When we are young, we often see the word “gift” as referring to something physical, tangible. As we become older our understanding changes. If I would ask this congregation, “What is the greatest gift you have received?” I would hear things like, “My wife, or our children.” I might hear, “My faith.” Another might say, “My sobriety.” As we become older we realize that the deepest sense of gift comes from blessings that relate to God and to people. This gives us insight into the peace that Jesus offered. It is a gift that focuses upon relationships, in particular our relationship with God.”
Jesus experienced a deep peace in his relationship with his heavenly Father. He experienced a oneness that was affirmed and supported through hours in prayer and solitude.
I believe Jesus wants us to experience a deep, inner peace in our relationship with God. It comes from knowing that we have been redeemed, our sins forgiven and we can be confident in being loved. Many years ago, after my father retired and before his Altzheimers kicked in, my Mom and Dad would go to the public library every week and take out several books each. They were both avid readers and they would spend hours sitting in the living room, Dad in his chair, Mom on the couch, each of them reading books. I doubt if there were many words exchanged. In fact, there was no need for words. Their relationship was grounded in a confident understanding of each other’s love and forgive.
This the kind of relationship that Jesus calls us to have with our Father, and his death/resurrection is the guarantee that such a relationship is available for us. Allow me to share a few practical ways to know this peace.
First, a life filled with gratitude is the foundation of a healthy faith life. The most holy person is also the most grateful; the most loving person is the most grateful. Gratitude is the realization that no one “owes” me anything, but in fact, all is gift. Ron Rolheiser tells the story of a fiftysomething truck driver who shared a hospital room with him for several days many years ago. The driver had an abdominal disorder that would cause extreme pain at times. Often in the night, he would start groining in pain, waking a young Ronald Rolheiser, until the truck driver pushed his button and a nurse came in and administered a pain medication. One night when this happened, after receive the pain medication, the truck driver said to the nurse, “I really appreciate you doing this for me.” The nurse responded, “No need to thank me. I am only doing job.” The truck driver responded, “Nurse, it is nobody’s job to take care of me. So when you do this for me, I need to say thanks!”
It is nobody’s job to take care of me?! That is a striking statement, and when I first saw it, I wasn’t sure if I agreed. Isn’t it a mother’s job to take care of her sick children? Isn’t it our Christian “job” to help each other? Of course, the answer is “yes” in one sense. Yet, on another level, we are born into this world and everything becomes a gift. The first breath I breathed was a gift. The first swallow of milk was a gift. The person who put the first diaper on me, was gifting me! Was it her job to put the diaper on me? Probably, but that still does not remove the fact that it was a gift to me. Once I begin to see this, than gratitude becomes more common. And when a gift is given, the only response is “Thank you.”
So how do I find a deeper inner peace with God? Begin to see everything as gift in your life, realizing that your only response is, “Thank you.”
Second, take time to gaze into the Eyes of God. At one point in his life, St. Paul acknowledge that he was mess…he just was not happy with how he was living his life. But thanks be to God, St. Paul said, that Jesus Christ has redeemed us. Thanks be to God that I don’t have to be perfect. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ understands me, better then I understand myself. Thanks be to God that I am loved at the deepest level of life. This recognition can only be discovered if we take the time to be with the Lord, looking into his profoundly honest and loving eyes.
Isn’t it true with all relationships? If you want to be made whole in your heart, find someone who loves you and look into their eyes. It might be a grand-daughter or a grandma; it might be a dear friend. But it is the love in those eyes that will heal and give us hope. If you do not have anyone, then find a picture of Christ and look into his eyes, and see his love for you.
Finally, to know inner peace does not mean that we will have no chaos. Every life has a degree of chaos and conflict. Certainly, Jesus did, as well as the early disciples. Should we expect to be any different? A deeper peace is possible when we “make peace” with the chaos in our lives, but realize that this chaos need not be the center of everything. As long as we think that our lives should be smooth and untroubled, then we will resent any tension that comes along. But if we accept the presence of tension as normal and, even helpful, then we will stop fighting it and start allowing the tension to be present without controlling us.
Choas and conflict is part of life, but it need not be the center of our lives. When we come to accept the presence of chaos, we also give ourselves the freedom to see beyond the chaos and to enjoy the goodness of life still available to us. As long as we stay focused upon the conflict and pain, it will eat into our ability to rejoice, and our ability to find peace. Some of the most peaceful people I know also suffer from great pain.
So, let us hear those powerful words of the Gospel today, “Peace be with you.” Let us open our hearts to this peace that we desire deeply. Look into the powerful eyes of the Lord and see his love and acceptance; be filled with gratitude, realizing that all is gift; and accept the presence of chaos as normal and look beyond it, to the new life in Christ.