Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
May 4, 1999
Acts 14:19-28; Jn 14:27-31
In today’s readings, the Church presents us what at first sight appears to be a contradiction. Jesus declares in the Gospel, “Peace is my farewell to you. My Peace is my gift to you.” Some two decades later, though, we see St. Paul getting stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead. Later he and Barnabas, the so-called “Son of Encouragement,” gave the disciples “reassurances,” saying that “if we are to enter into the reign of God, we must undergo many persecutions.” Paul’s subsequent experiences showed the truth of this statement in his own flesh: he was repeatedly beaten, stoned, hunted, imprisoned and ultimately decapitated for the faith a mere five miles from here. The believer might be tempted to ask: if this is the peace Christ left, could war have been much worse?
The Lord was indeed right: he does not give peace as the world gives it. For the world, peace is the lack of war, a temporal tranquillity, a life free of the fear of subjugation, excessive want, crime, hatred, persecution. Christ’s peace is, surprisingly perhaps, something altogether different; and it often co-exists with inner spiritual warfare, with want, with persecution. In fact, the Lord himself says in Matthew’s Gospel that he had come not to bring peace at all (as the world understands it) but the sword!
What, then, is this peace that Jesus promises to leave with us as his personal farewell regalo? It’s peace with God. The New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated with his blood is the definitive Peace Treaty between God and the human race. Man had declared war on God by his primordial and continual disobedience, and in so doing, had declared war on himself as well. But God so loved man that he allowed his own Son to be the Casualty of War that would bring the war to an end and reconcile us with God. On Calvary, the God-man suffered, in sum, all of the attacks of man’s war against God and himself, all the weapons in Satan’s and sin’s arsenals, from the bullets of venial sins, to the nuclear bombs of deicide, and collectively they killed him. But then… three days later, he rose from the dead, and the earthly Hiroshima was transformed into the heavenly Jerusalem.
Finally there was peace for man, true lasting peace with God and peace with himself. Christ had defeated sin and allowed man to live in grace, to live as a son of God again. Man was free to live in love, love of God and love of neighbors. And this love, this peace, was something that nothing but sin could take away. As St. Paul said in his letter to us Romans, “neither hardship, nor distress, nor persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword, death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, nor anything else in all creation — including what might be tempting and plaguing us today — will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And St. Paul, who suffered most of those afflictions he listed, ought to have known. This is the peace that Jesus is talking about. Ultimately the peace coming from the fact that we are loved! God created us out of love and loved us so much that he traded his Son’s own life for ours!
It was this recognition that allowed Paul to suffer all he did. It was what gave him his evangelical boldness, to bring the Good News into settings where he knew that it might lead to his getting stoned and left for dead. Paul was truly fearless, because he knew God loved him and was on his side. This is what made the many persecutions he and Barnabas said that all Christians would have to suffer endurable. This is what will make all of our necessary sufferings endurable as well.
Later on in this Mass, Christ will say to each of us here today, as he said to the apostles in the upper room, “I leave you peace, my peace I give you.” And he means it! To prove it, he will give us the very Body and Blood offered upon the Cross in love to achieve that peace once and for all. Your unworthy deacon will have the privilege of inviting you to share a sign of that peace of Christ — that genuine Christian self-giving love — with each other. We can ask the Lord to help us truly mean these words as well! Lastly, at the end of Mass, the same deacon will humbly command you to go forth in the peace of Christ! Filled by the Lord’s Body and Blood, may we truly carry that Peace with us — no matter what tribulations may come our way — out to a world filled by those who so desperately need it.
May the peace of the Lord be with you always!