Peace starts at home

Isaiah 66: 10-14 ; Galatians 6: 14-18 ; Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20

When I was a child my favorite part about Mass on Sunday was the sign of peace, because it meant that I got to go around and shake people’s hands.  Each Sunday we have the opportunity to offer each other the sign of peace, to say “peace be with you”.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks much about peace.  Today Jesus sends His disciples on a mission.  The disciples are told that when they encounter others they are to offer them peace in a gesture so much like the sign of peace we offer at Mass.  As Christians, Jesus sends us to bring peace to others. Sometimes we offer people peace so casually at Mass, but we do not think about what true peace means.  What is this peace that we want to “be” with other people?  Also, it is very important to consider if, outside of this gesture on Sundays, we are offering peace to those we come in contact with on a daily basis.

True peace, the kind of peace Christ talks about in the Gospel, has a deeper meaning than we normally imagine.  The peace that we are to offer at Mass is something that is so much more than the way that peace is usually understood.  We usually think that peace is simply the absence of conflict.  We say that after World War II there was peace in Europe after the treaties.  There was peace because open conflict had ceased. But was there true peace?  Far from it.  After fighting had stopped, people in Europe were deeply wounded by the violence done.  There was anger and despair in people’s hearts.  A treaty did not obtain full, true peace.  The peace that Jesus is talking about is so much more.  True peace is peace of heart; it is consolation, joy and tranquility.  This peace is not something man-made but comes as a gift from God.  The first reading speaks vividly of the peace God brings.  He consoles us like a mother nursing her baby.  God comforts us like a parent comforts their child by putting them upon their lap.  St. Paul reminds us in the 2nd reading that the peace that God gives us was won by the Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.  On the Cross Jesus conquered the enemies of peace: sin and death.  True peace is a gift from God and was won by Jesus on the cross.   

When we receive this kind of peace from Jesus, we need to share it with others.  If our heart is truly touched by this kind of peace we are compelled to go give it to those around us.  Picture for a moment an empty glass. Imagine that you take a pitcher full of water and begin filling the glass.  When the glass is full, you continue to pour the water so that the glass overflows and water runs down the cup and onto its surrounding.  This is what happens when Jesus fills us with peace.  In this analogy, the water is peace, our heart is the glass and Jesus is the one holding the pitcher.  When Jesus pours peace into our heart, He fills us to the brim and the peace we receive will spread to those around us.  The heart of every person thirsts for peace.  In order to spread peace to those around us we must first receive God’s peace, we must allow Jesus to fill our cup. You cannot give what you do not have.  Notice in the gospel that the disciples are only sent to bring peace to others after having been with Jesus.  They first received peace from Him.  We receive Jesus’ peace through prayer and receiving the Sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.  When we do this we become like that overflowing cup, God`s peace will flow from us to those we come in contact with.  When our heart is touched by God`s peace we transmit peace to others.

Though many will accept the peace we offer, some will reject it.  When we go bringing peace to those around us, though the majority will willingly accept it, some will not want to receive it.  In the gospel, after Jesus has sent His disciples on a mission he warns them of this reality.  Some people will welcome them, others will not.  If you are looking for an example of people rejecting Christians and their message, look no further than the Internet.  Many of you are probably aware that the past two Popes have had Twitter accounts.  If you have no idea what Twitter is, if you think that a “tweet” is just a sound a bird make, allow me to clarify.  Twitter is a program that allows you to send a short message to a large group of people.  People can share this message with others and even respond to your message.  Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have used Twitter to share short Gospel messages with millions of people.  In general their messages have been well received.  But, it you ever look at the responses people write, you would be shocked.  Many people write incredibly rude and hateful responses to the Popes.  There are a lot of broken and wounded people who respond to a well-intentioned message with outright hostility.  When we are rejected in this way, we should not get angry or stay to debate. We shouldn't “feed the trolls”, as they say in internet lingo.  We should follow the advice of Christ and “shake the dust from our feet”.  We must not allow the hate and bitterness of others to cling to us and poison us, destroying our peace.  We should shake it off.  Though many will accept the peace we offer them, some people, who are wounded and broken, will reject it.
Jesus calls us to bring peace to all people, but we need to start with those closest to us, our own family.  Christ’s mission to bring peace far and wide must start in our own family.  Mother Teresa often said that “peace starts at home”.  If a family is at peace, then it will bring tranquility to society.  On the other hand, if a family is at war, it will bring discord to society.  It is like when you throw a pebble in a pond and ripples are formed on the surface of the water that spread far and wide.  Such a small stone can have such a great effect.  Likewise, a family that is at peace creates a ripple-effect in society; its affect can be huge.  How then can we bring peace to our family? To quote Mother Teresa again: “works of love are works of peace”.  Through small works of love we can bring peace to our families and eventually to the world.  Something as simple as a smile or saying “good morning” can bring peace.  Helping a younger brother or sister with their homework or house chores is a work of love.  Taking the time to listen patiently to your husband or wife who has had a hard day at work is an act of peace.  Calling up an elderly relative to see how they are doing is also a work of love.  Works of love are works of peace.  Peace starts at home; from there it radiates to all of society.

Today our world yearns for the peace that only Jesus Christ can give.  Jesus sends us to bring this peace to others.  Whenever we give each other the sign of peace we can remind ourselves of this in a special way.  It is significant that shaking hands is a sign for agreeing to something, of making a deal.  When you give the sign of peace today, let it be your chance to agree to be someone who brings peace to others, starting with the members of our own family.  Let us agree to bring peace by doing simple acts of love.  Every time we offer each other the sign of peace commit to doing this.  Let us shake on it.

What pulling off a Band-Aid teaches us about the spiritual life

Matthew 9:9-13

We all know the best way to rip off a Band-Aid, you have to tear it off quickly and in one go!  More often than not we do not do this because we are a little afraid of the pain.  So we start tugging gently at the Band-Aid, thinking that it will hurt less or be easier if we take it off slowly.  In the end though, after hesitation and some false-starts, we eventually just tear it off quickly because this is simply the best way to do it.  This example of the Band-Aid illustrates an important general principle for our life: some things are best done quickly.

Sometimes we are slow to respond to what Jesus is asking of us.  In various areas of our life we know what Jesus wants from us, but we hesitate to do it.  For example we may be convinced in our heart that Jesus is asking us to give something up in our lives.  Perhaps it is a sinful behaviour.  Maybe it is something that is not of itself bad but is taking too much of our time and is leading us away from God. It could be that we know Jesus wants us to spend less time watching TV, surfing the web or gossiping with friends on the phone.  Or maybe we are convinced that Jesus is asking us to start doing some good activity in our life.  Perhaps we know we should spend more time with God in prayer, get involved in a parish group or give more money to the poor.  Though we know what Jesus wants us to do, we hesitate to do it.  It actually makes doing the thing more difficult and more painful in the end.  It is like when we take our time pulling off a Band-Aid instead of giving it one quick pull.  We are afraid to pull it off because of the pain but in the end it ends up hurting more.  For various reasons, whether it be fear, laziness or discouragement, we can often be slow to respond to what Jesus is asking us to do in our life.

Responding quickly to the call of Christ is usually the best approach.  Doing what Jesus is asking of us decisively and with determination is usually what is best for us in the long run.  In today’s Gospel we see this clearly in the life of St. Matthew.  We find that Matthew is a sitting at his custom’s post.  He is a tax collector, someone who was looked down upon by the other Jews.  Jesus passes by Matthew and asks him to follow him.  Matthew probably knew who Jesus was before, maybe he was drawn by his teaching.  At this moment Matthew knew exactly what Jesus was asking of him, that he become his follower.  He also knew the consequences of this action.  He was leaving behind a job and security for a risky, unknown future.  But Matthew takes courageous action.  He knows what Christ wants from him and he does it.  Getting back to our Band-Aid analogy, Matthew goes ahead and rips off the Band-Aid is one clean pull.  If he had hesitated, perhaps Matthew would never have left his post and followed Christ.  The decision to do what Jesus asked forever changed his life.  He came to know Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.  He became an evangelist, helping to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Matthew is a great example because he teaches us that responding quickly and decisively to what Jesus asks of us is what is best for us.

Today let us look in our life and see if there is anything that we know that Jesus is asking us to do, but we are hesitating to do it.  Examine yourself to see if you have any Band-Aids that you are hesitating to pull off.  We all have areas in our life where we are reluctant to change or do some thing even though we know that Jesus is asking it of us.  After having done this, let us ask Jesus for the grace to act quickly and decisively in carrying out what it is that He is calling us to do.

From doubter to great missionary, the story of St. Thomas can be our own

John 20:24-29

Experiencing doubts about your faith is a common experience.  Sometimes people have difficulty believing in the existence of God.  Others are uncertain about whether Jesus Christ is truly God.  There are also those who struggle to accept various teachings proposed by the Church.  Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas, often called “Doubting Thomas”.  He is something like the patron saint of those who doubt.  By looking at His life we can discover an important lesson about the role of doubt in the life of Christians.

From the Gospel we learn that Jesus is there to support us when we experience doubts.  When we struggle with disbelief, Christ will always be there to help us, to help lead us back to belief in Him.  Initially Thomas doubted the Resurrection.  When the Apostles told Thomas that they had seen the Risen Christ, he doubts it. He says he cannot believe it unless he sees it with his own eyes.  The interesting thing is that Thomas keeps searching.  Though he has doubts he continues to spend time with the Apostles.  Thomas does not walk away. Because Thomas keeps searching, Jesus has an opportunity to reveal Himself to Thomas, to show Thomas the holes in His hands, feet and side.  Likewise when we experience doubt it is important for us to continue searching.  We should never give up when we experience doubts.  When we do this Christ will work in our life to satisfy our struggles with the faith.  He can do this in many different ways.  For example, if we have difficulty believing in the existence of God, perhaps through the beauty of a sunset we will be convinced that there must be a loving God who created this.  Or if we are struggling with a particular teaching of the Church, through a conversation with somebody or through a book that we may read, the issue may all of a sudden “click” in our mind, it may make sense like it never has before.  As long as we continue to search for the truth when we experience doubt, Jesus will eventually satisfy our doubts as He did for Thomas.

After experiencing struggles in our faith it is possible to become a great follower of Jesus Christ.  Once our doubt has turned to belief we can become a more fervent and effective follower of Jesus Christ than before.  In the Gospel we see this already with St. Thomas.  After Jesus appeared to Thomas, Thomas proclaims what is one of the strongest declarations of faith in the New Testament: “my Lord and my God”.  After the Ascension of Jesus, Thomas went on to become a great missionary.  Ancient tradition tells us that St. Thomas travelled through the Middle East and eventually settled in India.  All along the way Thomas spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Many Christians in India call themselves “Thomas Christians” because they recognize that their faith came to them through Thomas.  I think that Thomas was so great a missionary because he himself had first struggled with doubt.  This made him better suited to tell other people about the Resurrection of Jesus, people who would also experience doubt about the whole idea.  We find a modern day equivalent in Jacques Maritain, a great French philosopher who passed away in 1973.  As a university student, Maritain struggled to believe in God.  One day his life changed forever when he heard a lecture by the philosopher Henri Bergson.  He was convinced that absolute truth does indeed exist and eventually entered the Catholic Church.  Maritain went on to become a great philosopher, defending belief in God and the Christian worldview. Maritain was able to do such a great job defending the faith to those who were skeptical because he himself had first experienced doubts in his own journey.  His life shows that once our doubt has turned to belief we can become a more fervent and effective follower of Jesus Christ than before.

At different times we will all probably struggle with doubt and uncertainty in our faith.  As long as we continue to search for truth in the midst of our doubt, Jesus will eventually make things clear to us.  Today let us commit ourselves to never stop searching for the truth when we struggle with doubts about our faith.