Fr. Roger J. Landry
Bishop Connolly High School, Fall River, MA
Votive Mass for Justice & Peace
February 12, 2003
We are now in preparation for war in Iraq. The Department of Homeland Security has just declared a Code Orange. How does a Christian respond?
The faithful Christian always responds by prayer, which is the greatest weapon in his arsenal. The Pope has been losing his voice asking Christians to pray to God to avoid war. President Bush has been publicly and privately asking Americans to pray for him, that he might be filled with God’s wisdom and make the right decisions, as well as, more personally, that God may help protect his wife and his family who have received threats against them. We’re all called to pray.
But there’s a particular type of prayer for peace for a Christian. Real peace, a Christian knows, comes from peace with God, because the start of all division and conflict comes from sin — either acts committed, envy. All of ours sins build on up because there is a unity among the sons of Adam, just like there is in the communion of saints. So our first action is always to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.
The Church expresses this in every Mass, right after God has come down from heaven upon the altar and right after we’ve all prayed together for the coming of the peace of God’s kingdom in the Our Father. The prayer is said directly to Jesus in the Eucharist: Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: “I leave you peace; my peace I give you.” Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church. Grant us the peace and the unity of your kingdom, where you live forever and ever. Amen. The peace of the Lord be with you always. And also with you. Let us offer each other a sign of Christ’s peace.
We recall first from the Gospel that Jesus leaves us his peace, just as he said during the Gospel we read from the Last Supper. Not as the world gives peace does he give it. He gives us first the opportunity for peace with God through the forgiveness of sins, which is the foundation of all peace. Then, strengthened by this peace, we pray for the peace and unity of his kingdom, the place where God’s will is done: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Then there’s a very significant action that takes place. The priest in the name of Christ prays, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” This is a prayer that each one present will indeed have this peace that comes from doing the will of God, living in God’s kingdom, in right relationship with God. That prayer is reciprocated to the priest personally, “And also with you.” Then the priest invites us to share that peace with others. “Offer each other a sign of this peace of Christ.” There are two stages. First we make our peace with God, then we offer that peace — the peace the world cannot give nor take away — to others.
So in this Mass we go first to the Lord and ask for peace with him through the forgiveness of our sins and through the faith of his Church. Then we ask him, with St. Francis, to make us an instrument of his peace, to sow love where there’s hatred, pardon where there’s injury, faith where there’s doubt, hope where there’s despair.
This prayer needs to be constant. During this year, the Pope has been asking all Catholics throughout the world — and that includes each one of us — to pray the Rosary every day, for two intentions: the strength of the family and for peace in the world. Why the Rosary? First he describes in the document you can easily find on the web the several historical occasions in which the Church as a whole has entrusted her intentions for peace to the Queen of Peace and how war was avoided or successfully and justly completed. We pray that the mother of God will intercede with her Son for this first type of peace that would lead to the tranquillity of order in the world. God has intervened in history many times. But there’s an inherent reason why the Pope asks us to pray this prayer. Because in the Rosary, the point of it is to contemplate the face of Christ in the various mysteries. And the more we prayerfully contemplate Christ, the more we receive God’s help to try to imitate the Prince of Peace and, having received his peace, we bring it to share it with others. In him we are able to see even enemies as brothers in the Lord and that obviously will change our conduct.
So the Pope, the vicar of Jesus Christ, is calling each of us to take up the weapon of the Rosary and pray it each day. Will you take up this arm of peace? I still have several sets of rosary beads blessed by the Pope himself in my office. Any student or teacher who would like one, please come by.
Today at this Mass, we unite our longings for real peace with those of Christ and the Church he founded and we pray for a few intentions. We pray first for President Bush and his collaborators, that he may indeed be blessed with God’s wisdom. What difficult decisions he has to make! On the one hand, he has an obligation before God to defend us against those who might want to harm us, just like any father would have an obligation to protect his family, any principal would have an obligation to protect his students. As individuals we are called to and can turn the other cheek, but someone whose duty is to protect others does not have that luxury. On the other hand, he is responsible to God for going to war justly, which involves going only as a last resort and when the threat of harm is truly imminent. This is inherently difficult to apply, and hence he and his collaborators need our prayers. Today would have been the 194th birthday of the man whom many historians believe was the greatest president in the history of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. He was no war-monger, but he did not shirk from going to war in order to preserve peace. He did what he felt he had to “with malice toward none and charity toward all.” We pray that President Bush may be guided by the same charity.
We also pray for Saddam Hussein, that he will do what he needs to do to avoid war. His pattern of deception and lies, his unwillingness to disarm, and his hostility toward other nations, is really at the root of this crisis. War can be avoided if he does what he promised to do at the end of the first Gulf War.
Then we pray for the terrorists and those who are threatening to do harm, that the Lord may touch them as only he knows how and remove from them the hatred that leads to the desire to kill innocent people and the fanaticism that convinces them that to achieve their ends any means whatsoever are licit.
We finish by returning to the Lord. He has already won the most important battle ever fought, the battle against sin and death, and established the definitive peace treaty between God and man. That peace treaty has been made, but he asks each of us to ratify it in our hearts, to make it our own, to go to the Lord for forgiveness and the peace that flows from it and then take that forgiveness and peace out to share with others. We are not powerless in these great global struggles. We are, in fact, very powerful, when we unite ourselves with him in prayer and in the sacraments. May Christ the prince of peace help us, help our nation, help our world, to say yes to him and allow the peace and unity of his kingdom to reign.