6th Sunday of Easter C - Homily 2

Homily 2 - 2016

Did you hear tonight’s Gospel? “Peace I leave with you. My own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give. This is my gift to you.” Something seems to have gone wrong! We just need to turn on the TV News to be once more persuaded of that. We pray for peace. But we feel so powerless. Our prayer seems so futile. We keep on doing it, without being quite sure why. Perhaps we feel it is all we can do. Most people say they want peace, even if they instinctively agree that war may sometimes be the way to achieve it. I would like to share a few reflections tonight on this issue of peace. I do not think that we are as powerless as we sometimes feel.

Every time I come away from a random gathering of people, whether it is of extended family, or priests, particularly ones I do not know all that well or do not see very often, if I reflect on what we were talking about, I so often feel ashamed. Time after time, we finished up criticising, or sending up, or condemning some individual or group of people. It could be the bishop or people in the Church who think differently, or local councillors, or the government, or just an opposing football team, or the umpire, or foreigners, or asylum seekers or the ones the media have it in for at the moment – anyone, provided that it is some one or some group that is different from us. Why do we do it? I think it is because instinctively we know that if our attention is not focused on someone or some ones who are not part of the group at the moment, it would not be long before we would be arguing with each other. We do it, and we do it without consciously thinking, to preserve the peace. It works. We seem to need others who are different to get a sense of our own identity and unity. We need the sense of “otherness”, of one who is somehow distinctive, the enemy, in order to feel comfortable together. Interestingly, the dynamic is the same whether we consider small ad hoc groups or nations forming their “coalitions of the willing”. We experience the “peace that the world gives”. But it is a fragile peace; and is hardly a truly satisfying peace. In its favour is that it does not cost us much, and it does not require us, whatever about the other, to change.

The peace that Jesus offers us is different. He offers a peace that respects individuality, that is inclusive rather than exclusive, that is not threatened by difference, that does not need clear boundaries and certainly does not need enemies. But there is a catch. Given the pervasive influence of our world, it does not come naturally. The dynamic of the world’s peace is what we learn from our earliest years; and it becomes so much second-nature that we are not even aware of it. We need consciously to change, and the change begins with noticing. And noticing is only the start. We need to learn to love, which means in practice that at least we begin to accept difference and learn to be at ease with it, that we respect the human dignity of everyone without exception, that we somehow acquire and practice the skills of listening, of resolving conflict, of compromising where necessary, and of graciously learning to live without always getting our own way. Effectively, it means that we learn to mature, to grow up.

As we learn to love – the price at the micro level of genuinely satisfying and lasting peace, we discover that we are not powerless. Indeed, our maturing is indispensable if there is to be much chance of our world finding peace at the macro level. 

The way of peace is Jesus’ gift. Its realisation begins with us.