Peace I leave with you

Readings: AA. 15.1-29; Ps. 67; Rev. 21.10-23; Jn. 14.23-29

"Peace I leave with you." What my mother wanted at home for her birthday, Christmas Day, and Mother's Day was "peace." Instead my dad and we children would purchase chocolate candy or flowers. It was easier to buy something than to be peaceful. We children had grown accustomed to frequent pushing and shoving each other, and disobeying our parents. As a boy, one of my household chores was to scrub the kitchen floor every Saturday morning. Unfortunately, that responsibility conflicted with my friends' sports schedules. Inside the kitchen, I would moan and groan about my situation. Finally my mother would say in tones which sent daggers into my heart and conscience, "That's OK, Vincent, if you want to go play with your friends; I'll get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floor myself." No self-respecting son could walk away after his mother had spoken those words! I scrubbed the floor and then went outside and played.

Peace. We all desire it. Can you recall certain moments when you have experienced peace?

Moments of peace for me include praying alone in the rectory chapel. Also, when I walk out of the confessional every Saturday, and pray privately on my knees for the penitents whose confessions I just heard, I experience peace.

Peace, what is it, how do we get it, and what causes us to lose peace? The theological definition of peace is "union in love." Union implies the joining of two or more entities. We can't have interpersonal unity until we respect and accept the individual dignity of some other person. If we treat someone unjustly, it is not possible to enjoy peace with that person. There will be no unity. We aim to be at peace with God. We want to experience unity with God. That requires that we recognize our relation as creature to Creator, as sinner to Savior, and redeemed to Resurrected Lord. Peace results from our recognition of what God does for, and that God loves us despite our sins. Being at peace within ourselves proves to be difficult for many people. Some people don't like themselves, or can't forgive themselves, despite professing to believe that God loves them and forgives them; some people are too hard on themselves. Of course, some other people are too easy on themselves. Avoid either extreme. It seems to me that most of us experience peace, but peace comes and goes in fleeting moments. When you have a moment of peace, enjoy it. Probably, it won't be too long before something will happen to disturb your peace.

How do we attain peace? Pray for peace. Jesus says in today's gospel, "Not as the world gives peace do I give peace." Can you pray daily: either in bed, or at your bedside, driving to work, or when the church bells ring or when a police or fire siren rings? When trouble strikes us, as it inevitably does, can you say the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila, "Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing, God alone remains constant." Or can you whisper the Serenity Prayer: "God, give me the grace to change what can be changed, the courage to accept what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference." My mother used to teach us children: "If you can't your situation, change your attitude towards it." In our lives when unfortunate unexpected events occur, remember St. Paul's: "All things work unto good for those who believe." (Rom. 8.28)

What causes us to lose peace, i.e., our unity in love with God, others and self? First of all, sin. Our moral selfishness diminishes the bond of unity with God, others and self. Sin leads to disharmony with God, others and self. Secondly, putting ourselves in the occasion of sin threatens our peace; occasions of sin are like cracks in an otherwise strong wall. Occasions of sin are the first steps in breaking down our peace. A context in which we are likely to lose peace occurs when we don't take proper care of ourselves. Sometimes we try to do so much good for others that we don't take proper care of ourselves: we might not eat properly, not sleep sufficiently, or work too hard or too long. Be careful about losing your inner peace under the guise or in the context of trying to do too much good for others. Be realistic in your expectations of yourself and other people; be accepting of legitimate criticism about yourself, and be slow to criticize other people; and have a grateful and generous heart. In other words, imitate Jesus.

We all long for peace. Remember Jesus' words: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives peace do I give peace. Do not let your hearts be troubled." Be at peace.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley