‘Peace I Leave With You, My Peace I Give You’

‘Peace I Leave With You, My Peace I Give You’

On May 22, Bishop Raica marked the sixth Sunday of Easter with Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, whenever we gather for Eucharist, we typically exchange a greeting of peace – either by responding to “peace be with you” or through a concrete gesture called the Sign of Peace before the reception of Holy Communion. To introduce this beautiful gesture, we often refer to this passage of Scripture we heard proclaimed today: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” Then, the Gospel reference continues: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Who among us is not pre-occupied by the instability and uncertainties in the world around us and the situation in which we live and find ourselves? The sad situation unfolding in Ukraine has many worried about global instability; the growing preoccupation with illegal drugs and activities; civility in public discourse; the racist attacks in Buffalo a short time ago; the cultural issues of the protection of life, especially in its vulnerable moments at conception and the end of life; violence in our cities that seems to find a lot of blame but no concrete solutions; the recent pandemic; and a litany more suggest that there are preoccupations that tear at and unsettle us – not even so far away, but in our homes, our neighborhoods. The question of peace is not something limited to that which is serene and tranquil outside of us. We also look for it inside, too - inside our own hearts. We want both!

Our reflection today considers peace, not in its external sense – like the absence of war and conflict – but in its internal sense – that happiness, joy, and serenity that comes from the discovery of the truth about and acceptance of who we are.

Our Gospel today ignites a response to those nagging questions by urging us to follow the unique method of the disciples. Demonstrating our love and affection for someone means we will listen to the Lord – and listen with all our hearts / all our being as though we are listening to an expert, for certainly Christ is the sure expert for us (and present with us today). We take seriously what Our Lord proposes.

We somehow know – even instinctively – that, as Christians, we have a tremendous promise that has, as yet, never failed those who are faithful to His Word and who have attempted in earnest to pursue the radiant life of a believer.

From the very beginning, especially in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see that the life of the early Church was not without its own set of problems and issues. For all intents and purposes, some of those same practical questions about church discipline exist today. Unless you do this or observe this practice of the law, or unless you have this or that experience, or unless you have “my” experience, “You will not be saved,” some say.

I remember as a collegian, at a study group on campus when someone informed me that unless I left my Catholic faith, I would not be saved! While, at the time I did not understand what I know today, I knew that our experience as Catholics can be traced back to apostolic times and people since then strived to live their lives in conformity with that faith – to seek an encounter with Christ. My response to this provocation was a foundational one for me.

To be honest, it has emerged off and on in different ways and circumstances throughout my life. I think to myself, “There are more than a thousand reasons to leave the Church, but only one reason to stay – that is that my faith is founded on Jesus Christ.” My belief is not contingent on my full and complete understanding of every doctrine or teaching of the Church. It is not dependent on the good or not so good behavior of this person or that priest or religious who says he or she is Catholic; it is not dependent upon the array of cultural factors which can find all kinds of paradoxes and ironies in the people of faith (i.e., of those who are part of the big tent we call Catholic where, indeed, all are welcome but not a place where anything goes). The foundation of my faith is not dependent on a perfect worldview that is philosophically complete  or the meticulous observance of a code of ethics or morals. My faith, as a Christian and as a Catholic, is based on a freedom that has allowed me to experience an event that brought me to an encounter with Jesus Christ – and His mercy. This encounter has put me on a new path of fulfillment in life. It has put me in the midst of the people who have been (over these past ~2,000 years) and currently are on a similar journey in life – that we call “Church” – where the presence of Christ can be encountered again and again. And that encounter has been so powerful for me personally that I have been drawn ever more deeply into it as if I were Zacchaeus perched on a sturdy branch of a sycamore tree with the Lord turning His gaze on me and saying: “Steve, come down – I’m going to stay at your house today!” In my mind I think, “O Lord, I’m not ready for You to come to my house – I have to tidy up a few things first!” Or the woman at the well whose thirst for something more was satiated when our Lord promised her that if she would drink of the water He would provide so she would never be thirsty again. I look for that – something that will slake my thirst for something more. Or St. Peter who betrayed Christ, and who spoke out of turn, and occasionally turned his glance away from the Lord and started to sink – to whom the Lord said on the seashore, “Peter, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord, You know I love You,” he responded. I hear and sense echoes and traces of these Gospel stories in my own life. I look, I thirst, and I hunger for that which will give me full and lasting peace and serenity. On occasion, whenever I deny this reality, this fact, I keep hearing our Lord whispering, “Steve, do you love me?” That’s why these Sunday experiences are so very important for me, and I hope for you, too! We want to see and experience what will give us the peace that Jesus promised and live our lives, not in fear, but courageously with lives full of hope and joy.

It is said that “a billion drops of dirty water do not make a clean ocean and a billion troubled hearts do not make up a human race at peace.” But, a true and lasting peace can start with one person: Yes the power of One! We have Christ, our peace, the One from God, guiding us and opening our hearts to something we need but cannot give ourselves. Today, and at each Mass, we allow Christ to find us and provide us with the remedy and hope – a peace that surpasses all understanding. Our exchange of peace at Mass represents that small gesture of reconciliation and peace with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Afterall, we are part of a human family.

During this month of May, dedicated to Mary, our mother and the mother of Jesus, we recall her life as one who knew and understood the peace that comes through a relationship with her Son who was the only One for which her life would make sense. She, whose life “proclaimed the greatness of the Lord,” could also hear the echo of the Lord’s words: “Do not be afraid!” “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you.” May God bless you!