Have you ever wondered why there is so much violence? How many countries, including our own, were founded on taking of lands by force and oppression of aboriginal peoples? Another war has arisen with the violent incursion of Russia into Ukraine. Has there ever been a time without war? How many of our youth and citizens die from gun violence and mass murders; another one most recently in Buffalo with the death of ten people? So many examples of road rage, domestic abuse, human trafficking, terrorism – foreign and domestic, and the myriad of random acts of violence that are occurring daily?
We often hear goodwill speeches, petitions, and intercessions ringing from our pulpits and prayer groups, participate and see people march, and vote for change. There are those working in the trenches, putting their own lives at risk, matching their words and their deeds, yet do any of these efforts make a difference? And we have been overshadowed by the pandemic for the past two plus years.
Amidst our own experiences, directly and indirectly, and with the constant temptation of cynicism and despair biting at our heels, the words of Jesus are proclaimed in today’s Gospel from John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27).
The peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that is not of this world, has been and continues to be offered to us as a gift. Many have indeed said, “If there is a God, well then, why doesn’t he do anything?” He has. The reality is, the peace that God shares through his Son, is one person at a time. This is why when he resurrected he only appeared to those he chose and not the whole world. Even if he had, these experiences, in time, would have been attributed to mere myth and legend. Jesus must be encountered and his relationship is built with each person in each generation. What we pass on as disciples are our experiences of our relationship with him. Our accounts and presence provides for others the opportunity to open their hearts and minds to receive and enter into their own relationship with Jesus, to accept the gift of his grace that he offers.
This peace that Jesus offers is not some abstract formula and his command to love is not some pie in the sky universal love for all. The acts of peace and love Jesus shares throughout the Gospel are very concrete, individual, and personal. Jesus interacts with people as people, not as numbers. He interacts and directs us to do the same, by encountering, accompanying, and loving a person. The real question is not why isn’t God doing anything? The real question is why have we left the gift of his peace that he has given us unwrapped?
If we want peace, our heart and mind must be open to receive it, to embrace it, and to live it in the most minute of details. We also need to have the room to receive it so we must be willing to let go of our own weapons of hate, prejudice, cynicism, racism, paternalism, and the like. God created us as beings who are interconnected, which means that what one does affects all, for the sun rises and sets on the good and the bad alike.
If we want peace, we need to be more aware and mindful of our thoughts, words, actions, and even the expressions on our faces. The thoughts that we feed are the ones that bear fruit in our words and deeds. Figuratively and literally, we need to be willing to “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks” (cf. Isaiah 2:4).
This verse becomes real in our lives when we disagree with someone and resist being disagreeable and instead respect the person. When we make a mistake, we resist beating ourselves up over the process and instead look to learn from our misstep, and begin again. We also need to be willing to offer the same understanding and patience to someone who speaks or acts in a way that gets under our skin.
Can we really bring about world peace? In some abstract form, for all people, for all time, no. What we can do, is choose to respect the dignity of each person we encounter. We can offer a smile, a random act of kindness, an encouraging ear or word, we can be patient and understanding, even with someone who we have kept at a distance. We can work in our communities to assess their unique needs and provide a voice and access where missing. What we need to decide today, is if we really want to receive the peace that Jesus gives and put it into practice, person to person as he did.
Photo: Praying for those ten recently killed and their families in their time of mourning (photo accessed from Today show).