Sunday, May 1, 2016

His Will, Our Peace

E'n la sua volontade e le nostra pace.
In his will is our peace.
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, III, 85

   Sixth Sunday of Easter   C 

This is a season of many birthdays in my family.
Among them, my grandfather Leo turned 92 last Sunday,
and my sister Jen turned 40 on Friday.
(Today is also my mother's birthday...
...but I know better than to give away her age from the pulpit!)
Somehow, we managed to surprise Jen
with a small party on Friday night
which included a little slideshow of family pictures through the years.
It was a fun trip down memory lane.
(It was particularly enjoyable to listen to my nieces and nephew
as they saw old photos from back in the day
of their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles…)

Of course, the whole thing was approached in good humor.
That’s what you’d expect on such an occasion,
avoiding calling undue attention to hard times in the past
(not to mention that we rarely take pictures
of life’s more challenging moments).
But even when tough stuff was brought up—
like the way my brother and sister
used to constantly fight when they were much younger—
it was done with big smiles and much laughter.
It wasn’t to make light of it all,
but because we’ve gained some needed perspective since then:
we can look back in a way
we weren’t able to when in the thick of it;
we can now see those hard times within the grand scheme of things.

In the gospel, we find Jesus preparing his disciples
for his coming Passion and death,
for his Resurrection and Ascension.
That same perspective which mature souls have when looking back?
Jesus wants his followers to have it when looking forward, too.
Life in general, and the life of faith in particular,
is quite often a rather rocky road.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus tells us;
“my peace I give to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”

What does the world usually mean by “peace”?
The absence of all our troubles.
But there is no way in this world of woe
to be completely free of problems.
So the best this world can offer us and call it “peace”—
whether its between peoples and nations,
or within the family, or inside of our own hearts—
is a temporary ceasefire or uneasy truce.
Needless to say,
the real difficulties haven’t actually been eliminated;
we’ve just chosen to ignore them…for now.

That’s not the peace that Jesus gives!

Admittedly, in modern America, 
turning 40 hardly makes you “old,”
(despite everything that’s written on balloons and greeting cards).
But it is around 40 that many have to start reckoning—
like it or not—with such signs of mortality
as aching joints and wrinkles and receding hairlines.
You and I both know people who fight hard against such things,
whether it’s with clothing or cosmetics,
with a fast car or a tattoo or reconstructive surgeries.
They don’t want to look their age
(nor frequently to have to act it, either).
Denial, however, only results in a brief respite, at best.

The other, healthier approach is one of acceptance.
That doesn’t mean we like it.
That doesn’t mean we have to pursue it.
Nor does it mean being stoic—
resigned to our fate,
as if the only option were to grit your teeth and bear it.
Acceptance is a matter of perspective,
of seeing the bigger picture—
taking what we can usually do pretty well in hindsight
and applying it to our present and future, as well.
What you’re accepting isn’t difficulty and diminishment;
what you’re accepting is the truth.
And this doesn’t just apply to getting older;
it’s meant to be a guiding principle for all of life.

What I'm talking about is accepting God’s will in all things—
about being convinced
of the truth and beauty and goodness of God’s ways,
rather than trying to convince God of the merits of our own.
(As an article I read recently put it so well:
two essential rules for living are to always remember that
(1) You’re not God, and (2) This is not heaven.)
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,” says Jesus.
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.”
An accepting heart is able to look at
whatever circumstances in which it finds itself—
easy or difficult, good or bad—
and say, “I trust that God has put me here
and God has made me this way.
Whatever the Lord’s plan may be in this
I trust he'll give me the strength to keep his word.”

That, my friends, is the peace only Jesus can give!

On my grandfather’s birthday last Sunday,
sitting around the big table where he and my grandmother
have watched their 10 children and 26 grandchildren grow,
they got to reminiscing about the days
when I was small enough to walk on that same table,
when I was a teller of many tall tales,
and when most of those stories involved my imaginary friend
whom I carried around in my pocket.
(Don’t worry: he moved away years and years ago!)

The peace Jesus came to give 
is one of constant divine companionship.
Yes, Jesus died (as we celebrated on Good Friday),
and, yes, he returned to the Father
(as we’ll soon recall on Ascension Thursday),
but he has never left us—and never will.
Love Jesus, keep his word, accept God's will,
and he and the Father will make their dwelling with you
not in your pocket, but in the depths of your soul.
The Father has sent the Holy Spirit to be your Advocate,
to teach and encourage you always.
Whatever life may dish out,
there’s deep peace in knowing
that we’re continually in the best of company:
the company of a Friend unseen, 
but not at all imaginary.

“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”
Have you ever noticed
how we repeat these words of Jesus at every Mass,
right before Holy Communion?
True peace, you see, is not found 
in the absence of trouble,
but in the real presence of Christ.

No comments: