The gift of peace

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. -

The gift of peace. While the disciples continued to hide in the Upper Room for fear that they, too, might be arrested and executed, the Risen Christ suddenly appears to them declaring, “Peace be with you.” The experience of the Risen Lord was a profound experience of divine mercy.

Jesus’ last memory of his disciples, save for the beloved, was of their betrayal and abandonment. Nonetheless, when the Risen Lord appeared to them, there was no demand for an accounting: “How could you. . . ?” In all the resurrection accounts, there is no moment of reckoning, no recrimination for betrayal and cowardice. There is only the gift of peace, the offer of friendship.

The fragility of peace. Through the Holy Spirit, the peace the Risen Christ offers indwells the first Christians. They prayed together, broke bread with one another and shared all things in common: “they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”

We tend to think that the Early Christians everywhere lived peaceably and shared all things equitably, as our First Reading from the Acts to the Apostles narrates. However, it was not that simple. Christians were excom-municated for marital infidelity and apostasy. Paul remonstrated the Christians in Corinth for their selfishness and pride. The Greek widows complained of being neglected. The Christian Jews demanded non-Christian Jews to first be circumcised and obey the Mosaic dietary laws. Peter and Paul argued furiously over the necessity of embracing Jewish practices prior to baptism.

 It was a fragile peace that had to be worked out arduously and nurtured vigilantly amidst the many polarizing controversies that challenged the early Church.

The task of peace-building. Today the Catholic Church and the whole world celebrate the beatification of the beloved John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 450 years, who shepherded his flock for 26 long years, visited 116 countries, denouncing oppression in its various forms and promoting a culture of life.

For John Paul II, the respect for life was a requisite for building peace.  

In 2004, in Lourdes, France, he declared, “ I appeal urgently to all of you . . . to do everything in your power to ensure that life, each and every life, will be respected from conception to its natural end.”Once life is devalued, persons are reduced to commodities, human rights are easily violated, violence and hatred ensue and rule.

For the Holy Father, peace was inseparable from political freedom.  

Having trained for the priesthood underground, during the German occupation and having ministered as a priest in communist Poland, John Paul II denounced the oppression of Christians under the Iron Curtain.   

An unflinching advocate of human rights, a staunch supporter of Solidarity in Poland, he will be remembered for his instrumental role in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall that triggered regime changes across the world, from Haiti to East Timor. Not only did he criticize communism, so did he unbridled Western capitalism and materialism. Not only did he speak against the oppression of Christians, so did he castigate the US and Great Britain for the military attack on Iraq, in effect, the unjustifiable violence done to Muslims. 

The beloved Holy Father fostered peaceful solidarity among adherents of different religions. He promoted inter-religious harmony through the Assisi conventions that gathered for prayer religious leaders of different faiths. During the first convention he declared that peace is established “through the language of witness that prayer does not divide but unites”;moreover, that peace is “hinged on friendship, reciprocal acceptance and dialogue between people of different cultures and religions.”

Not only did he pray and worship with people of different faiths, but also, in unprecedented fashion, asked for forgiveness from the Jews for the atrocities Christians had committed against them through the centuries. Not only did he urge warring nations to reconcile, he witnessed to our capacity for tender mercy. 

On May 13, 1981, he was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca in St. Peter’s Square. Nonetheless on Dec. 27, 1983, he visited Mehmet in his prison cell and afterwards reported, “I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”

For John Paul II, a life of peace-building was inseparable from his life of faith. Hence in his 1999 Letter to the Elderly, he confessed, “I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life.” The Lord has indeed called our beloved John Paul II into God’s heavenly court. Now counted among the holy, we humbly petition, “Blessed John Paul II, pray for us that, like you, we might witness to the peace that the Risen Lord offers our weary world.”

Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ is a prolific composer of liturgical music and serves on the faculty of the Loyola School of Theology. For feedback on this column, email tinigloyola@yahoo.com.

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