Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. A person’s last will and testament is a very important document. Here in Ireland, we have often heard about situations where someone’s will was contested and disputed - what someone was meant to get and what someone else was supposed to receive. This situation often leads to conflict with family members tragically divided for years.
In today’s Gospel from his farewell at the Last Supper, Jesus informs those he loves what he wants to bequeath to them or leave them after his death. Because he was poor, it wasn’t land or farms or money but something much more important. He wished to leave them his peace.
Every time we celebrate Mass just before communion, we pray for that same peace with the words taken from this Gospel: ‘peace I leave you my own peace I give you’. But what is the nature of the peace Jesus wishes us to have? Certainly, it is what we understand peace to be – the absence of fighting, friendship, feeling happy and contented. But the kind of peace that Jesus is speaking of is much more than feeling good. Feelings come and go but the peace of God is something much deeper and lasting. The peace of God is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that flows from all things being in their right order which begins with a life that creates a dwelling place for God at the centre.
Our souls are made for God’s peace and being at peace flows from praising him. If we are not at rights with God then nothing can replace the peace that we will lack because of it. As the Lord explains: ‘a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you’. On the other hand, if we enjoy God’s peace then we are ready to face any challenge. We may still suffer and have trials but no matter how bad the storms become, once we have God’s peace, then all will be well. This is why Jesus follows his promise of peace with the assuring words of: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’.
One of the most profound spiritual books I ever read was by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, former Archbishop of Chicago who faced two major challenges at the end of his life. One was being falsely accused of sexual abuse and the other was terminal cancer. As he faced his own death, he wrote a moving book entitled ‘The Gift of Peace’. Despite his suffering, he left this world in total peace that came from his surrender to God’s will. He wrote:
‘What I would like to leave behind is a simple prayer that each of you may found what I have found – God’s special gift to us all, the gift of peace. When we are at peace, we find the freedom to be most fully who we are, even at the worst of times. We let go of what is non-essential and embrace what is essential. We empty ourselves so that God may more fully work within us. And so we become instruments of peace in his hands’. It was like God had finally made his way to the centre of his life which allowed peace to flow out to everyone.
Another great example of a life of peace is St Francis of Assisi – a saint much loved by all Christians and all religions. He was another who taught us the value of peace that flows from a soul centred on God and spreads out from there.
I can think of not better way to end this homily than with his great prayer that sums up his whole life as ‘a channel of your peace’. May we too be channels of God’s peace by accepting the gift of peace that Jesus left us on the night before he died:
‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is division, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life’.