6th Sunday of Easter
May 26, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
There are certain words that even though we hear and repeat them
over and over again, in our daily conversations, on the daily news
and even in our most solemn prayers,
sometimes we don’t stop to think what they really mean.
One of these words finds its way into our Gospel today.
The word is “peace.”
Today Jesus tells His apostles,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
But what is this “peace” that Jesus is leaving His apostles?
Is it something simple like the tranquility of the quiet places
He would often lead them off to relax and pray?
Or is it something earth shattering, like an end to violence and war in the world?
Or was He promising them that they would never argue amongst themselves?
Or was He simply extending to them a common social greeting: “peace”?
To answer this question let’s think about the one place in Scripture
where there’s absolute peace
–in the first 2 chapters of Genesis,
at the beginning of the world in the Garden of Eden.
There we find that there is peace in every sense of the word
–there is harmony between people, specifically husband and wife,
between man and nature, between man and himself.
Most especially, there is harmony between man and God.
We’re told that Adam and Eve lived with God,
that He would walk with them in the garden in the cool of the evening.
And why not: this is what God created them for.
Our God of love created man to be like Him–in His own image and likeness
–so He could give them His love, and receive love in return.
And that is the peace of paradise: sharing God ‘s one life of love forever
The Old Testament tells us how this is the peace lost
when Adam and Eve didn’t keep God’s word,
but this is also the peace restored in the new Testament with Christ.
St. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is like a new Adam,
and that all things are made new under him.
Christ comes to restore the peace of paradise,
to bring us to share forever in the one life of love with God.
And so on the night before He died, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells His apostles:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
This is the promise of the restoration of living with–dwelling with–God.
And doing this by doing what Adam refused to do: “keeping [God’s] word.”
Jesus goes on to say: “Not as the world gives [peace] do I give it to you.”
The peace of Christ isn’t simply the tranquility of a quiet place to relax;
it isn’t an end to wars and violence in the world;
and it isn’t a mere social greeting.
The peace of Christ is found in entering into the perfect life and love
that exists between the Father, Son and Spirit,
being one with them by imbibing their grace,
and hearing and being transformed by and keeping God’s word.
This is the peace of Christ: the peace of paradise, the peace of heaven itself.
Heaven—paradise—is the perfection and completion of this peace,
but we can share in this peace even in this life.
So that even as Christ kept His Father’s word perfectly
by obediently accepting the violence of the Cross,
He also experienced the peace of being in perfect union
with His Father and the Spirit,
so that even in midst of His agony and pain,
He had the interior peace to promise the repentant thief:
“Amen I say to you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
This interior peace may seem impossible for human beings to attain–and it is.
But for God nothing is impossible
—and with His grace, nothing is impossible for us.
So how do we find this peace?
We start, as I’ve said, by keeping His word.
As Jesus went on tell His apostles at the Last Supper:
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love..”
We cannot share in the peace of Christ if we refuse to enter into
and live the love of Christ.
And when we live in that love—abide in that love—God will come to dwell in us.
But how does He come to dwell in us?
God moves as He wills,
but He’s promised to come to us whenever we receive the sacraments.
He came to us in Baptism, when He washed away the stain of Adam’s sin,
and made His sons and daughters.
He came to us in Confirmation,
when the Holy Spirit came to us with the fullness of His gifts.
And He comes to us in Penance, where we are again reconciled to Him again,
as the priest prays over us: “may God grant you pardon and peace.”
But nowhere more fully or profoundly is this same grace given,
this same gift of peace,
than in the sacrament we are here to celebrate today–the Eucharist.
The sacrament which is a foretaste of the eternal heavenly banquet.
The sacrament that brings us into communion with the Cross,
and thereby into the act of love that brings us
into the life of the resurrection
–the act of obedience of the New Adam that reconciles fallen man to God
and offers him the life of paradise,
of heaven, eternal life with the Trinity.
This whole notion of peace is lost on most people—even most Catholics.
It’s true that we all want there to peace
between nations, and communities, and families.
But when we speak of this peace, we usually mean a peace
founded in temporary compromises, even injustices.
Peace like the Armistice agreement at the end of World War I,
a peace that ended one war,
but simply set the stage for years of suffering and ultimately more war.
Or where a wife agrees not to talk about her husband’s drinking,
and he agrees not to beat her—too often.
Or where parents agree not to talk about
their adult children’s falling away from the faith,
and the adult children agree
to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Or when Christians agree to tolerate all sorts of immoral behavior in society
and compromise their moral principles in legislation,
just so they’ll be allowed to live their own lives according to own beliefs,
and then wind up being called bigots and hatemongers anyway.
Or when bishops and priests agree to turn a blind I or cover up abuse,
so that they can keep up a facade of righteousness,
but in the end create even worse moral scandal.
This is peace as the world gives peace, not the peace of Christ.
Sometimes, because of the sinful choices of men,
this worldly peace seems to be all we can hope for
in relations between nations and people.
But in the end it’s like sip of water in a parched desert,
compared to the true peace of Christ,
the fountain of life-giving water springing up inside of us.
All too often we settle for this impoverished notion of peace.
Perhaps there’s no better illustration of this
than in a ritual we practice at many Masses.
At every Mass, right before Holy Communion,
the priest quotes the Lord Jesus saying:
“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”
But the prayers of the priest make it clear he’s not talking about worldly peace.
Right before this he says
“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days.
that…we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress.”
And immediately after he says,
“graciously grant [us] peace and unity in accordance with your will.”
But then the confusion usually comes when
the priest invites the people to offer each other “the sign of peace.”
Just as Christ gave His peace to the apostles at the first Mass at the Last Supper,
the sign of peace at Mass today is meant to be a reminder
that we are about to receive the peace that comes in the Eucharist:
to share in the power of the Cross and Resurrection,
His perfect act of love that offers us restoration to Paradise,
the peace of perfect loving and HOLY Communion
with the Father, Son and Spirit,
and through them, communion with each other.
And yet all too often, it can become basically and expression
of the way “the world gives peace”
—a time to offer a friendly greeting, or even to chat for a moment.
Not that there’s anything wrong with friendly greetings, and such.
But that’s just not what the Sign of Peace at Mass is about.
It’s supposed to be a profound and solemn ritual sign and prayer
that points us not toward the temporary or superficial peace of this world,
but toward the abiding perfect paradisal peace of Christ
that’s about to flow into us as we receive Holy Communion.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Father, you’ve been telling us this for years.”
I have, and thank you for listening, thank you for the efforts you have made
to incorporate this into our Masses here at St. Raymond’s.
Nowadays the word “peace” is thrown around as the panacea of all problems.
But what kind of peace—true and lasting peace, or false and temporary peace?
Today, let this word resonate with its truest and deepest meaning.
May it awaken in us the desire to not settle for anything less than
the perfect peace of the perfect paradise of heaven
–with the Blessed Mother, St. Raymond, and all the angels and saints
who have kept God’s word throughout the ages.
The true and mysterious peace we receive in this world by
entering into Holy Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The peace of Christ be with you always.