GIVE PEACE A CHANCE...
When you think about it, we seem to have a growing number of words where there’s a concept or an ideal of what they should mean – but the reality can be extremely different. We hear the word “Love” and that’s been used to describe the laying down of a man and a woman’s lives for one another in the Sacred institution called matrimony as well as by McDonalds to describe the feeling one would have for their dollar value meal I’m loving it. “Friend” - refers to people who you’ve grown to know, grown to love that they can become as close or even closer than relatives but in present day definitions, it’s also used to describe one of a thousand people who you haven’t spoken to since graduating high school that you’re connected to on the internet that facebook has determined they are a “friend” as well.
Today’s Gospel focuses on a word that could fall into that same category: “Peace.” Just hearing the word Peace and there’s so many varied impressions, expectations or hopes that attributed to it. It seems every finalist for Miss America is said to want “world peace.” So for some, Peace means “the absence of war.” Politicians utilize the word “Peace” but often times the way that is lived out we might wonder what exactly that means, Sometimes it’s more of a truce – you leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. Sometimes peace is appealed to as the justification of removing an evil threat (World War II for example).
Even on a more local level, it’s not uncommon to see signs that say “Peace” on them or a Peace sign and wonder “what does that mean?” The other day on the parkway, I saw one car cut off another car - and in typical Jersey style the two drivers expressed their incredible displeasure for one another. Ironically one car had a “Coexist” bumper sticker and the other had one that said “Give peace a chance.” I guess that shows how fragile and short-lived a thing “peace” can be.
In today’s Gospel, here it is the night of Easter Sunday. The empty tomb has been discovered. The reports of heavenly figures announcing that Jesus has risen are starting to spread. Yet despite this wonderful news, look at what’s going on. We are told that the disciples huddle together in fear. And when you think about it, Who can blame them?
The man they had come to know as a friend, who they truly loved and knew loved them - who they had followed, listened to preach, seen perform miracles, witnessed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with such great fanfare and excitement – not 5 days later is betrayed, denied, abandoned by them; He is unjustly arrested, tortured and put to an agonizing death on the cross. That’s a pretty seismic shift of events in such a short time. So all of these things shook them to their core. They had to have been filled with a mix of sadness, shame and embarrassment – and absolute fear ( it had to have crossed their minds that if all of this had just happened to the one they had all left everything and followed because they believed he was the Messiah – how much easier would it be for all of them, these “stupid fishermen” who followed him to be rounded up and eliminated?).
You also have to wonder if there was part of them that was scared about what if this news was true – that Jesus truly was risen? Maybe they were afraid of what Jesus thought of his “chosen 12” in light of everything that had happened. Part of me could imagine if it was me, I might want to ask my friends “What was up with all that?”
Yet look again at Jesus words. The first words he offers as he simply enters the locked room where they were hiding: “Peace be with you.” Three times Jesus is quoted as saying that in this short passage. What is this peace that Jesus is offering them? Well look at what happens. The second time Jesus says “Peace be with you” He breathes on them, gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and tells them “whose sins you forgive are forgiven; whose sins you retain are retained.” He’s instituting the Sacrament of Reconciliation - and making a clear connection. That what so often deprives us of peace in our own lives is our own sinfulness, our self-centeredness. Yes the disciples were deprived of Peace and living in fear, in part because of their own sinfulness and self-centeredness that had them at that moment isolated from the world. (That’s what sin does - it isolates us)
The gift of Peace that Jesus is offering is that He wants us to experience how our God wishes to give us every good thing. His Being Risen from the dead, being victorious over sin and death, promises us that we can be victorious over sin in our lives, in the sin of the world that seeks to corrupt us... That we can experience that victory over death now and in eternity. And when we start to experience that freedom – then we know of his true Peace in our lives... With that, we see how much fear has been plaguing us. Not the healthy fear, like if you met a bear while out hiking, but an exaggerated fear that stems from so much of the craziness and tragedy that disturbs and rattles so many of us.
Several years ago a person wrote a letter to a priest who had a syndicated Q&A column and asked: “Young people these days seem self-assured, but underneath they, like so many of us, are engulfed in fears. Why do millions, young and old, gripped by fear, want to live like the doomed souls of the Titanic? And why don’t priests today talk more about fear and sin?” In his response the priest replied: “We priests do need to acknowledge and speak of the realities of fear and sin. The challenge however, is to do so in ways that will not lead to more despair, but to hope and holiness and a deeper sense of faith and trust in God. [As one theologian wrote a few years ago, speaking of this very responsibility], it does no good to tell people they’re drowning. They already know that. What we need to tell them is why they shouldn’t just go ahead and sink!”
More than likely, each of us is plagued by some fears, some are legitimate some exaggerated. We can choose to ignore them or pretend that they aren’t there. We can live gripped by them, very much as the Apostles were as they were locked away in that room. Or we can hear the Good news that the Risen Jesus Christ comes to offer us freedom from that. If we desire that freedom, we must let go of our sinfulness, experience His Divine Mercy and allowing His forgiveness to re-direct our lives But that’s the thing - making that choice, accepting this gift has an inherit risk involved – that we might change or have to change or be changed by this and for many that can pose the greatest fear of all.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ promises us a share in Christ’s cosmic victory over sin and death, where fear has been conquered and vanquished. If we allow that promise, that gift to enter into our personal lives, we wont have the confusion or the diversity of opinions to confuse us as they try to articulate what the word“Peace” means – because we will have come to know, experience and live His true and lasting peace in our own lives.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern