Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Peace of My Mind

During the last week of school, while I was retreating, I went through pretty intense computer withdrawal. I compromised a little bit with myself and allowed use of my laptop to compose a reflection for my blog of a religious nature, so as not to violate the spirit of the retreat. The result is the following, which, to be sure, is more "preachy" than what people are used to reading from me, but don't worry - I'll be back in the swing of things and posting my cantankerous gripes before long.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
With these words, Christ revealed himself to his disciples after his Resurrection. Bestowing on his apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit, he sent them forth into the world with his peace. So graced with the peace of Christ, they became men hunted - moving constantly, laboring restlessly to build up the kingdom of God; they faced enemies from every side, threats at every corner; they were frequently imprisoned, often brought within a hair’s breadth of execution; they endured loneliness, hunger, and restless wandering; and finally, all but one suffered agonizing martyrdom. By cross, by fire, by sword or by stone, each died "peacefully," as it were – but what a strange peace they had been given!

Ite in pace.

At the end of every Mass, Catholics hear some form of this dismissal. Like the apostles, we are bidden to "go in the peace of Christ." It has a comforting sound, regardless of what hell and brimstone we may have heard preached in either the readings of the homily that day. And so, we quickly hurry off to our favorite diners for Sunday morning breakfast, or home to catch the early afternoon football game. Our weekly participation in the holy Mass has left us feeling quite satisfied, and even edified. And certainly, it is appropriate that there should be such a sense of joy and serenity that comes of an influx of grace. However... we cannot conflate the world’s pleasures with the Lord’s peace. The relative cheerfulness of Sunday drivers or the kindness of our favorite waitress should give us no illusions about our relationship with the world into which we have been sent, or what our mission is there. The peace with which we have been sent forth is no different than that of the apostles; the external circumstances alone may differ, while the internal realities remain the same - and these former things can change all too easily.

The Catholics in China receive the same Eucharist and the same peace as those in the West; then, they steal forth via back-alleys or even underground passages to their homes, aware that the Body and Blood of Christ lately consumed during their clandestine Mass might bring them to prison or worse at the hands of a tyrannical government. In contrast, Catholics in Europe and America might leave Sunday Mass and pass rather comfortably the remaining week, working at posh jobs each day and returning to luxurious homes with in-ground swimming pools; yet these may be steeped in sin and in truth possess but little of the true peace offered by Christ.

This was the peace with which Saint Peter and Saint Paul greeted the recipients of their letters. These authors knew very well that they were headed for the gibbet, and that their acquaintances might follow them there before long. Faithful men and women throughout the entire era of catacomb Christianity and the Roman persecutions never ceased offering one another similar sentiments of peace, living lives torn apart by oppression and threat of torture and death. The peace offered by Christ once crucified confounded many in the early Church, as Saint Paul observed, and it remains a paradoxical mystery to this day. It is a transforming peace, an interior peace, that can often be found more readily in a soldier's heart as he eats cold rations on a battlefield than in the soul of a rich businessman lounging in comfortable chambers choking down expensive food and bad wine which he only pretends to be tasty because it ought to be at the price he paid. It is a peace rarely to be found as an aspect of what we so follishly refer to as "the good life." Truly good lives - truly peaceful lives - are the lives of people like Maximillian Kolbe and Edith Stein, not Paris Hilton and Kobe Bryant.

It's worth pausing the moment it takes to gather breath before we give God our thanks at the end of next Sunday's Mass, to reflect on what it means to "go in the peace of Christ," "to love and serve the Lord." When offering one another "a sign of Christ's peace", it may be well for us to glimpse peripherally the crucifix and the true sacrifice lately made present at the altar around which we gather. Our handshakes have a deeper meaning - they are the offer of a profound and terrible gift, one which we often recieve all too lightly and too seldom give in earnest to our neighbors. I pray that I learn to appreciate this gift and be more willing to share it with others. I pray that we all may understand more deeply what it means to recieve Christ's gift, and how long it may be and how much we may endure before we can truly rest in that peace.

Deo gratias.


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