Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk.2:14). The angels’ proclamation of the gift of peace, given in Christ, announces the fulfillment of the messianic promises cherished throughout the ages by God’s chosen people: “For to us a child is born, a son is given; and his name shall be called … Prince of Peace” (Is.9:6).
As Advent leads us toward the celebration of Christmas we turn our attention day by day to reflect upon the meaning of the birth of Christ. The Christmas mystery celebrates God’s gift of peace. Peace has descended from heaven to earth. The Word has become flesh. The order intended by God for his creation is finally realized in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of Mary. This profound communion between God and man is the source of genuine peace and reconciliation.
The peace of Christ is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence dwelling in our hearts. This peace is the result of being reconciled to God and in right relationship with others.
That this gift of peace has not yet been fully realized on earth is a reminder that we have to open our hearts to allow Christ’s peace to take root and flourish. Even as the birth of Christ occurred in a hidden out of the way place near Bethlehem, and was witnessed only by a few shepherds, the birth of peace in our world begins in the hidden recesses of our hearts. It is here that we welcome Christ in faith, and he communicates his peace to us.
Where is this peace today? Certainly the challenge of peace remains the urgent challenge of our times. As in the days of Jeremiah we lament, “We wait for peace to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.” (Jer.8:15). My 2014 travels to far-flung parts of the world with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) brought home to me how elusive and precious is the gift of peace and how the lack of peace and justice is so destructive of human dignity.
Our nation and our world continue to confront the devastating causes and effects of terror and violence on every continent of the globe. Terrorism and violence have many faces and go by many names. Instability threatens to overwhelm the entire Middle East and much of Africa. Racial tensions are flaring up into violent confrontations in many of our American cities. Violence is driving huge waves of migration around the world. Indeed, where is peace and how will it be achieved?
Fifty years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded us of an important truth that we do well to recall today. “Peace is not the mere absence of war or the simple maintenance of a balance of power between forces, nor can it be imposed at the dictate of absolute power. It is called, rightly and properly, a work of justice. It is the product of order, the order implanted in human society by its divine founder, to be realized in practice as men hunger and thirst for ever more perfect justice” (GS 78).
In the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaims blessed those who hunger and thirst for justice. He proclaims blessed the peacemakers (Mt.5:6,9). The more we welcome the peace of Christ into our hearts, the more our hearts will yearn for justice and the more passionate we will be for peace in our bent and broken world.
It is especially through prayer that we welcome and receive the peace of Christ. In his Apostolic Letter “On the Most Holy Rosary,” Saint John Paul II recommended the Rosary as an effective prayer for peace since it leads to the loving contemplation of Christ through the eyes of Mary. “Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ — and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary — learns the secret of peace and makes it his life’s project” (40).
Focusing our eyes and hearts on Jesus, meditating on his mysteries, pondering his teachings, learning to walk the way of discipleship cannot help but make us his peacemakers in the world today.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and observe both the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and the World Day of Prayer for Peace on Jan. 1, I urge you to pray for peace in 2015. I recommend the prayer of the Rosary be prayed daily for this particular intention, throughout the New Year. Our Lord promises, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (Jn.14:27).
May the Lord give you peace!