A Gift from on High – Peace Sunday 2022

Peace Sunday LogoPope Francis said on World Peace Day “In every age, peace is both a gift from on high and the fruit of a shared commitment.”   Peace Sunday is celebrated in the parishes of England and Wales this Sunday.

We might think of “peace” as the peace which is felt after a conflict ceases due to international cooperation in response to some grave crisis – a war, natural disaster, even a pandemic.  We then see again the world of the possible, the goodness of reality as God intended, truly “a gift from on high” – and then we rediscover beauty and cooperation and often wonder why on earth we let the issue get that far.

When we think of “peace”, we might also be reminded of the sign of peace in church (currently suspended due to Covid).  It’s a symbolic act that is meant to point towards the disposition of heart required for receiving the Holy Eucharist.  To refuse the sign of peace to a fellow congregant and then receive our Lord in Holy Communion is thus a sinful contradiction.  The gesture reminds us that in order to be in full communion with Christ, one must first “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” but also to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

This should cause us to consider how we choose to interact with each other: in our families, at work, with friends, neighbours and in our church community.  This has been brought into forced focus during the pandemic where sometimes resistant attitudes towards restrictions, designed for the common good, have caused conflict.

But the crisis has also brought out in us many examples of compassion, sharing and solidarity. We need to build on these examples and, as Pope Francis comments, this requires patient work on the part of each of us: “listening to each other, sharing different views, coming to agreement and walking together … breaking up the hard and barren soil of conflict and indifference in order to sow the seeds of a lasting and shared peace”.

At the start of this New Year, we witnessed the funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  South African biographer John Allen in his biography of the archbishop, hinted that Tutu was showing signs of adherence to the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church.  Bishop Tutu had a great devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. “Since I’m not part of the Catholic tradition, I think my interest in it indicates that it has ecumenical appeal,” he once said. “She encourages us to understand the importance of turning in on oneself for inner peace, of seeking solitude, silence and expectation, of being with God. It must not have been easy to achieve such an important position in the church at a time when women were often seen rather than heard.”

Archbishop Tutu’s commitments were based on what he saw as the gospel mandate for peace. In this, he followed the path set by older Christian leaders, such as the Catholic Archbishop of Durban, who pushed the Catholic Church to be the first church body to declare the racist system of apartheid a “structural sin” and destroyer of peace.

O God of peace, who are peace itself

and whom a spirit of discord cannot grasp,

nor a violent mind receive,

grant that those who are one in heart

may persevere in what is good

and that those in conflict

may forget evil and so be healed.

Amen


Resources and activities for children for Peace Sunday can be found on the Pax Christi website: https://paxchristi.org.uk/peace-sunday-2022