6th Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
I don’t have to tell you we live in very troubling times.
Every day we read and hear about and even personally experience
terrorism, racial tensions,
immigration and economic problems,
not to mention assaults on our basic rights and freedoms.
Sometimes the world seems upside down
as what just yesterday everyone knew was good is now bad,
and what was terribly bad is now good.
We see families torn apart by divorce, infidelity, abuse, drugs, or other vices.
We see unprecedented anger in our political discourse,
and confusion in the Church.
In the midst of all this we can easily feel overwhelmed by
anxiety, depression, despair, and fear.
…. And then we hear the voice of Jesus echo over 2000 years:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
What beautiful words, what consolation they bring.
And yet they are not mere or empty words,
but they contain and communicate a reality
that is at the very center of the Mission of Christ:
to bring His true and everlasting peace to mankind.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
But, note what he immediately adds:
“Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”
The peace of Christ is not the peace we normally seek in the world.
It’s not merely people not fighting, or merely “just getting along.”
If you think about it, the peace of the word is very shaky
—it soon ends, and often violently.
That’s because most of what passes for “peace” in the world
—whether between nations or people, or friends or family—
is an impoverished “peace” rooted in compromise, despair, or simple fear.
That is not the peace of Christ.
Instead Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
The peace of Christ is a peace that is planted in our hearts.
A peace not rooted in compromise, but faith.
Not in despair, but hope.
Not in fear, but love.
A peace that doesn’t come from ignoring the world or its problems,
but of recognizing Jesus’ presence in our lives
and knowing that there are no problems that He can’t lead us through.
This is the peace that flows from Christ into our hearts,
so that even when we are assaulted on every side
by the terrors of the world,
our hearts are not troubled, but filled with a peace that,
as St. Paul says elsewhere,
“surpasses all understanding, …
guard[ing] your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
A peace that is a grace—a supernatural gift.
But as we say, grace builds on nature,
so it is something we must be open to, prepare for and cooperate with.
How do we do this—and how does this grace come to us?
Let’s look how the world establishes its peace
—how, for example, it goes from war to what is commonly called “peace.”
First, there is a cease fire
—outward acts of violence must stop before the peace can move forward.
Then, there must be some sort of reconciliation
—the parties must, in some way forgive each other,
or at least let bygones be bygones:
without this they will surely eventually return to violence.
And finally, there must be a new common life
—they must live and move forward together in friendship.
When this doesn’t happen, any fragile peace attained will fall apart.
I think, for example, of the “peace” imposed on Germany to end World War I,
the “peace” which inevitably led to World War II.
Something similar happens with Christ’s peace.
First there must be a cease fire.
To receive the peace of Christ we must stop fighting him, doing violence to him.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us: “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” Our cease fire means we keep his Commandments, and live as he taught us to,
and seek his will in everything we do.
How can we have his peace if all we give him is war, rejection and division?
We have to repent our sins, and genuinely try to change our lives.
Then there must be reconciliation.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, in our war with Christ,
we are the only ones guilty of aggression—he isn’t.
So we must seek forgiveness from Him—and He forgives us so easily.
As we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus says,
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him.”
We see and receive this forgiveness so beautifully in the sacrament of penance,
where we admit our faults and he loves us and forgives us
so we can be truly reconciled with him,
and move forward together with him.
And so in the sacrament the priest prays,
“may God grant you pardon and peace….”
And as you leave he says, “go in peace”
—the peace of heart, mind and soul, of Christ.
And then there must be a common life, a life of true peace with Christ.
As Jesus says in today’s gospel:
“we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Jesus begins our common life with him by coming to dwell inside us
in the sacrament of baptism.
And when we have driven him away by our sins
he returns to dwell in us in the sacrament of penance.
But it is in the sacrament of the Eucharist, Holy Communion,
where we most dramatically experience
the constant renewal of this indwelling and of our unity of life,
as he physically comes to dwell in us.
And so peace is a particular fruit of the Eucharist,
so much so that throughout the ages the Church has called it
“the sacrament of peace.”
And this is reflected in the prayers of the Mass.
For example, just after we begin Mass
by confessing our sins and asking for Christ’s mercy,
we immediately proclaim what is essentially the purpose of the Mass:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.”
The Eucharist is meant to give glory to God
—after all, Eucharist means “thanksgiving”—
and to bring peace to us, if we have good will toward God.
This language of peace is especially prominent after the readings,
as we enter into the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass.
In particular, in the first Eucharist Prayer that I always use,
there are several important prayers for Christ’s peace,
For example, right before the consecration, the priest prays:
“graciously accept this oblation of our service,
…order our days in your peace…”
In other words, the first fruit we ask from this sacrifice
is that our days will be ordered, or lived out, in his peace…
Then we go on and after we pray the Our Father,
we come to the ultimate revelation of the connection
between Christ’s peace and the Eucharist: the “Rite of Peace.”
Here the priest prays, quoting the very words that we read today:
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles:
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,
look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity
in accordance with your will.”
Now, notice a couple of things.
First, the Mass is fundamentally a prayer with Jesus to God the Father,
and almost all of the particular prayers are directed to the Father.
But not this one. This is one of the few prayers in the Mass that is directed
specifically to Jesus
Because now Jesus is right here in front the priest, inches in front of his face,
and so now he turns to Jesus and begs him to pour out on us
the 2 key fruits of the Sacrament: “peace and unity.”
Second, note it’s not a prayer for peace alone, but “peace and unity”:
“unity” means “communion.”
So we’re begging Jesus to give us his peace
as he comes to dwell in us in Holy Communion.
Then the priest looks up from Jesus on the altar
and looks to you and says, “the peace of the Lord be with you always,”
which is a prayer that that peace will come to you in Holy Communion.
And then after that we pray the “Agnus Dei,” or “Lamb of God,”
which summarizes the rite of peace in its conclusion:
“dona nobis pacem” — “grant us peace.”
The fruit of the sacrament,
the fruit of the sacrifice of the Lamb is peace.
Now, I’m sure you noticed I left out something:
the invitation to exchange the sign of peace.
I did that on purpose,
because you can’t understand that exchange
if you take it out of the fullness of its context,
which is summarized in the Lamb of God.
As the first important liturgical directive issued by Pope Francis told us in 2013:
“By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace.…
[T]his …finds specific expression in the sign of peace.
It should be made clear once and for all that the rite of peace
…has its own profound meaning
of prayer and offering of peace
in the context of the Eucharist.”
It is a solemn, and ritualized prayer, a small part of the larger “Communion Rite,”
and yet it usually turns into something very different.
It’s as if you came up to Communion
and instead of consuming the Host reverently
you put It in your pocket and said, “I’ll save this for later when I’m hungry.”
That’s not what that ritual means.
The Eucharist is not mere bread for the hunger in your stomach,
and the sign of peace is not a mere friendly greeting to your neighbor.
The Eucharist is a communion with the true Body of Jesus
who comes to dwell in you with His peace,
and the Sign of Peace is a prayer that that will happen to you.
In the Old Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form Mass,
before giving the sign of peace
the priest kisses the paten
—the little gold plate that holds the consecrated Host—
a symbol of kissing the Host, Eucharist, Itself,
and then he turns and gives a ritual “kiss”
—actually a formal embrace—
to the deacon, who in turn embraces the subdeacon,
who embraces the acolyte,
and so on, until the kiss of peace flows like a river of grace
from Christ on the altar down, one by one, to everyone present.
Does the sign of peace look anything like today?
Does it seem to flow from the Eucharistic Lord on the altar,
and then, back to him on the altar, like the ebb and flow of a wave?
Sadly, not much.
We do it pretty well here at St. Raymond’s—I’m very proud of you.
But we can do better.
We should never give the sign of peace “as the world gives it.”
Rather, as Pope Francis reminds us, it should be done,
“with religious sensibility and sobriety”
and should take, “only the briefest of time”
and given only “to those who are nearest.”
So you should simply turn to the people next to you,
and shake their hand or simply bow your head
—remember some people may not feel comfortable with a handshake:
it’s true, don’t judge them.
And you don’t have to say a word, but if you do you should never say things
like you would in the world: “hello,” or “good to see you,”
but something Christian, like,
“the peace of the Lord be with you always,” or simply “peace.”
Now, I’m not trying to chastise you, or disturb the peace here, so to speak.
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
But I can’t say enough how important it is that we do this right.
As Pope Francis warns us:
“If the faithful through their ritual gestures
do not appreciate and…show themselves
to be living the authentic meaning of the rite of peace,
the Christian concept of peace is weakened
and their fruitful participation at the Eucharist is impaired.”
Let’s do this right: in a beautiful, solemn and edifying way.
We live in a very troubled world.
If you’re like me, sometimes you wonder how you’ll make it through the day,
much less the rest of life.
But then we remember the words of Jesus,
and that he has poured his peace into our hearts in so many ways,
especially through the Eucharist.
If only we will open our hearts to that peace
—what more comfort do we need, what more strength do we require?
As we now begin to enter more deeply into the mystery of this great Sacrament,
let us prepare our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us,
by our private prayers and the public prayers and gestures of the Mass,
to be open to the peace of Christ that comes to us in Holy Communion.
And as we approach our Eucharistic Lord to receive him,
and then as we leave here today to face all the many troubles of the world
let us have faith and hope in his loving promise:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”