Living in the Peace Christ Gives and Leaves, 5th Tuesday of Easter, May 16, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
May 16, 2017
Acts 14:19-28, Ps 145, Jn 14:27-31

 

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • One of the greatest paradoxes in the Christian faith, one of the most important things for us to grasp and live, involves the reality of God’s peace in the Christian life including in times of persecution. Jesus tells us in the Gospel today and reiterates for us in every Mass, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” He was saying these words to the apostles just hours before he would be arrested and on the vigil of his being massacred by Roman soldiers. He wanted them to remain at peace during all that would transpire, just as he would be at peace. At the beginning of this discourse, which we heard on Friday, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God. Have faith also in me.” Today he repeats those words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” He reiterates that he is going away but will come back and has given them these words of peace before everything would transpire “so that when it happens you may believe.” He reminds them that the “ruler of this world is coming” but clarifies that “he has no power over me.” Jesus will allow everything that will occur to happen to him so that the world will know “that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.” Jesus peacefully underwent even his crucifixion in order to show his love for the Father, because real love is shown in trial.
  • Jesus was able to say these words because, as we’ve been talking about all Easter season long, by his resurrection he would show that not even a brutal crucifixion is enough to take one’s peace away, that there’s nothing truly to be afraid of, that in the end God triumphs and all of us who live and die in him will share that victory. That’s the ultimate ground for the peace he gives us and leaves with us. Our peace is grounded in our living relationship with him, the Prince of Peace. It is made possible by the peace treaty he signs in his own blood with God the Father through his mercy. It’s made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit that he and the Father send. We see both fully on display on Easter Sunday evening when Jesus enters the closed doors of the Upper Room, twice wishes his startled followers peace, and then says “Receive the Holy Spirit” and “those whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” Pope Francis said a few years ago in a homily in the Vatican that the peace Jesus leaves and gives is fundamentally the Holy Spirit, remembering that when Jesus in the Upper Room wished the apostles “peace be with you” he then breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The peace that Jesus leaves with us, the peace that the world can’t give or rob, is the peace that flows from our grounding our entire life on God. If God is our treasure, if God is our foundation, if Jesus is our way, truth and life, if we’ve constructed our existence on him the cornerstone, then persecution, trouble, or even crucifixion can’t take that peace away but rather can confirm it.
  • If this is true, why is there such lack of peace in the world, in our city, in so many of our families, even in our own hearts? That’s because the vast majority of people haven’t truly based their lives on God but are placing their treasure in things that won’t last. Jesus described the path of peace and happiness in the Beatitudes, but few of us really live by what he teaches us. Many place their peace in money rather in God’s kingdom, and if the stock market takes a dive, if the economy goes into recession, if the gas bill skyrockets, they immediately are destabilized. Jesus says that the path of peace, his faith, is the path of spiritual poverty than finds its true wealth in what thieves can’t destroy, rust can’t corrode, or the IRS can’t tax or confiscate. Many of us place our peace in other people’s affection and admiration, but this, too, is insecure. As soon as someone turns on us, rightly or wrongly, we lose our peace. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches us that if our peace is founded on him, we won’t lose it even when people revile us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely because of him. Jesus ultimately says that our peace needs to be based on hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for holiness, for a just relationship with God. If we have this, then we can’t lose it, even under trial. The only way we can lose it would be through sin, which is placing something or someone else above God and the lack of peace that results is medicinally and mercifully meant to bring us back to the Sacrament Jesus established to restore our peace with him.
  • This lesson Jesus teaches us about the foundation of peace is illustrated very powerfully in today’s first reading. Saints Paul and Barnabas were full of peace and no one could take that away from them. At the beginning of today’s passage, Jews from Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium arrived in Lystra, won over the crowds, and proceeded to stone Paul, just as he himself had once presided over the stoning of St. Stephen. They dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. It’s almost certain that he was in fact dead, not just unconscious. If people were intent on stoning someone to death, they wouldn’t just hurl stones and walk away, but they’d ensure that the stones had accomplished their homicidal purpose. Likewise the disciples could easily have observed whether Paul was breathing or had a pulse and they, too, thought him dead. But they didn’t lose hope or peace. St. Luke, an eyewitness, tells us that the disciples “gathered around him.” They prayed to the One who had risen from the dead to allow Paul to experience that resurrection. And he did! And then we observe the strength that comes from the peace Christ gives: though Paul was doubtless was full of lumps, discolored bruises and black eyes all over his body, instead of nursing his wounds, instead of moving on to another city lest he undergo anew that same fate, he with incredible courage and also deep peace returned to the city. He was not “troubled or afraid” in the least. He had the peace that comes from a living relationship with the risen Lord Jesus. And from there, he and Barnabas retraced their steps along their first missionary journey, returning to the places where they faced opposition and were run out of town — Derbe, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia — on their way back to the disciples in Antioch in Syria.
  • Along the way, Paul strengthened the spirit of the disciples who must have been concerned about his wounds and his safety and encouraged them to persevere in the faith by saying “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” He let them know that they, like he, would have to undergo many trials, but that none of those should rob them of their peace or their faith. Those would be opportunities for them, just as for Jesus and Paul before them, to show that they “love the Father” and “do just as the Father has commanded.” Real love costs and our willingness to suffer hardships for the Lord who suffered crucifixion for us is a means by which not only we grow in faith and express our faith, but it’s an opportunity to ground ourselves more and more in God, in his peace, in his holy will that seeks to bring good even out of evil, even out of what we suffer. The early Christians in large part received this message and, through many hardships, grew in faith and in number. And their peace in the midst of everything was one of the most powerful proclamations of the Gospel that they would ever have been able to announce to the world. And it was in bringing that message and means of peace that they were peacemakers and children of God.
  • We see these lessons of peace and peacemaking on display in the life of St. Leopoldo Mandic*. Bogdan Mandic (1866-1942) was a Croatian born in what is now called Hercegovina. When he was young, his father, a fisherman, lost everything and the family was reduced to destitution. St. Leopold never forgot what it felt like to be in need of everything and always showed a great compassion for those in need. When he was 16, he left his parents to enter a Capuchin friary in Italy. He dreamed of becoming a missionary in Eastern orthodox lands, to try to heal the Great Schism of the Church, but because of multiple health problems, he was deemed unfit. He was only 4’5” tall, couldn’t walk well, and suffered from terrible stomach ailments, bad eyesight and arthritis. The Capuchins were known as great preachers or parish missions, but Leopold couldn’t share in that work, either, because had a stuttering problem that made it impossible for listeners to hear the message because of the messenger. His superiors could imagine only one ministry for him, the ministry of the confessional, and to that he was assigned. Looking at his confessional, he began to call it “My Orient” and said “I will be a missionary here.” And before long he became a modern St. Francis Xavier of the Confessional. Looking back later, he realized how the Lord had prepared him for this crucial missionary and peacemaking work. When he was eight, he recalled, he had gone to Church to confess a venial sin against his sister. The priest gave him as a penance to kneel in the middle of the Church in the sight of all. It was the birth of his vocation. “I stayed there deeply saddened, and wondering within myself: Why treat so severely a child for such a slight fault? When I get big,” he vowed to himself and to God, “I want to be a religious, a confessor, and treat the souls of sinners with much goodness and mercy.” That’s precisely what he did.  For most of the 52 years of his priestly life, the vast majority of them spent in Padua, he heard confessions 12-18 hours a day. His confessional was besieged by penitents won over by that “goodness and mercy.” Many of the friars thought he was too easy on penitents. He routinely responded to the criticism with a smile but with seriousness, saying, “If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I’ll tell him that it was he who gave me this example, and I haven’t even died for the salvation of souls as he did.” He would tell penitents who were afraid of returning to the sacrament because of the penances other priests were known to give, “Be at peace; place everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it.” And he did take care of it. He would give the penitents light penances but, in reparation for the evil they had done, would do the rest of their penance himself, staying up most of the night in prayer as penitential satisfaction for their sins. Some charged that he was simply killing himself in the confessional. A priest must died from apostolic hard work,” he would reply. “There is no other death worthy of a priest.” He would even eat in the confessional, saying to those who thought he was extreme, “How can I desert so many poor sinners on the excuse of seeking food for my body?” When he had to leave, there was a bell for penitents to ring, and no matter what time of day they rang it or what inconvenience it caused, he would come running saying, “Here I am, sir, here I am!,” lest they become discouraged and leave. “
  • One experience shows the great extent to which he’d go to make his penitents comfortable. One absolved sinner recalled, “I had not been to confession for several years. I finally decided to go and went to see Fr. Leopold. I was troubled and anxious. I had just come in, when he got up from his chair and greeted me joyfully like a long-expected friend: ‘Please, come in,’ he said. Troubled as I was, I went to sit in his armchair [rather than kneel down]. Without a word, he knelt down on the floor and heard my confession. When it was finished, only then did I realize my blunder. I wanted to excuse myself; but he said with a smile: ‘It’s nothing, it’s nothing. Go in peace.’ This show of goodness remained engraved in my memory. By it, he had entirely won me over.” When people would thank him for his love for them in the confessional, he would always deflect their attention to the Lord. He’d point to the crucifix with tears in his eyes and say, gently and warmly, “It’s he who forgives! It’s he who absolves!” Pope John Paul II said at his 1983 canonization that it was this “heroic fidelity to Christ” that constituted his holiness. He understood and lived by the principle that heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than for 99 who never needed to repent. “If you wanted to define him with just one word,” John Paul II stated, “then he is ‘The Confessor.’ His only expertise was how to ‘confess.’ But this is where his greatness is found.” He disappeared so as to make room for Christ, the “true Pastor of souls.” He desired to be nothing other than a nearly-hidden “shadow” of Christ’s saving love from the Cross.
  • Shortly before his death of esophageal cancer in 1942, he predicted that during the World War then ongoing, “The Church and the friary will be hit by bombs, but not this little confessional-cell. Here God exercised so much mercy for people and it must remain as a monument to God’s goodness.” That’s precisely what happened in 1945, when the Church and friary were almost completed destroyed, but his confessional left unscathed. It, and he, remain as testimonies to the goodness of God in extending his mercy, peace and the goodness of priests like Leopold in dispensing it so lavishly at such a cost.
  • Today we come to Mass to enter into Communion with the Prince of Peace who leaves and gives his peace literally in person. This is the peace he wants us to share with each other. To offer each other the Sign of Peace, as we’ll have the privilege to do in a few minutes, is to offer Jesus and to pray that his peace may inundate each other. We will pray that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world that rob us of our spiritual serenity may “grant us peace.” And we will ask him to strengthen us to “go in peace” at the end of this Mass, glorifying the Lord by our lives of peace even in the midst of the hardship that may come! O Christ, Prince of Peace, strengthen us to live in and spread that peace!

*In the spoken version of the homily, I mentioned that St. Leopold’s feast day was May 16. After giving it, I realized that it was actually May 12. 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 14:19-28

In those days, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium
arrived and won over the crowds.
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city,
supposing that he was dead.
But when the disciples gathered around him,
he got up and entered the city.
On the following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
After they had proclaimed the good news to that city
and made a considerable number of disciples,
they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying,
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and,
with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord
in whom they had put their faith.
Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia.
After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia.
From there they sailed to Antioch,
where they had been commended to the grace of God
for the work they had now accomplished.
And when they arrived, they called the Church together
and reported what God had done with them
and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Then they spent no little time with the disciples.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 145:10-11, 12-13AB, 21

R. (see 12) Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.
R. Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Making known to men your might
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
R. Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
or:
R. Alleluia.
May my mouth speak the praise of the LORD,
and may all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
R. Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
JN 14:27-31A

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.
I will no longer speak much with you,
for the ruler of the world is coming.
He has no power over me,
but the world must know that I love the Father
and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”