January 2002

Peace as One Body ©

I have in my breviary a beautifully crafted card that I received years go from a dear Franciscan sister, which contains a wooden cross thinly sliced from an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane and tiny pressed flowers from the Holy Land. On it are the lovingly hand-written words “Afin que tous soient un!” (That all may be one).

These words, taken from the Gospel of St. John, reflect rather well the spirit of the little poor man who radiated Peace and Joy from Assisi, eventually to reach the farthest corners of the world.

As though to anchor the Church’s prayer for Christian Unity this month, Pope John Paul II convened, also in Assisi, a meeting of representatives of the world’s great religions…to pray for peace.

This action reveals a brilliant insight into the nature of unity, which cannot be imagined outside the context of true peace. It reveals that at the heart of all great spiritual traditions there is a common longing for enduring peace, and until we grapple with the nature of peace, unity will elude us – both Christian unity and the unity of all of God’s loved children.

Or, viewed another way, until we understand the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ plea “that all may be one”, we cannot hope to achieve the peace we so sorely need.

The two are inseparable.

In bidding farewell to his apostles, Jesus reminded them of the law that stands above all others. This was his will and final testament: I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other.

Knowing that this is what is meant by the fullness of Christian love, he prayed to his Father that they come to know the fullness of unity that love creates.

And he wished the same for us: I do not pray for them alone. I pray for those who will believe in me through the word, that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one, as we are one – I living in them, you living in me – that their unity may be complete.

Jesus prayed for one central gift – unity. It will be only through this evidence of loving unity that the mission to the world can be effective. Where this loving unity of disciples is found, there will be found the company of Jesus, the divine presence and the living love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name all Christians as baptised.

Through our common baptism, all Christians share that which is most essential: one Holy Spirit, one Word and one mission. We are all disciples of the same master – all earmarked with the same purpose, to take up our cross and follow the Good Shepherd.

Jesus makes it clear in reading scripture what it means to follow him. Above all, it means to be an instrument of God’s peace. We must realize that the love it enables is not a simple sentiment. More significantly, it is an attitude and an action.

Love, as Jesus taught us to love, is service…done out of goodness. Mother Teresa used to explain how simple a rule of life this is. She would explain that the essence of the gospels is capture in one hand. On its five fingers we recall Jesus’ five key words: When you fed, clothed and comforted the least of God’s children, you did it to me.

I would add that to glorify God fully, we should eagerly add the other hand: that all might be one. You did it to me…that all might be one. Two open hands and an open heart dedicated to the glory of God from whom all good things come.

Yet while we readily hold out the first hand, we typically hold the second back, as though to keep our options open or to serve another purpose if the need arises.

Such limitations in service to the will of God only serve to limit our own participation in God’s Peace and Joy.

In fact, while we readily follow Jesus in the company of like-minded brothers and sisters, we eschew those who challenge some of our treasured traditions. We do so as though Jesus’ professed wish that “all may be one” was a whim that we can chose to ignore, even though it was uttered during the final hours of his life, when a person typically utters their most heart-felt words.

We treat his invitation to work for unity the way we treat a dentist’s appeal for us to floss our teeth…would be nice, we say under our breath, but not essential.

Yet viewed in the context of what Jesus means by love, division is a veritable scandal. It make hypocrites of those of us who profess to strive for imitation of Christ.

So, the question arises: how can we achieve unity. I believe there are several parts to the answer.

The first must surely be that we believe unity to be possible. It is imperative that it be an integral part of our faith system.

Also, we must work for unity on a local level. Achieving peace on a global scale is not within our competency. Only God’s. But we do have the capacity to sow tiny seeds of peace.

St. Francis’ prayer for peace is brilliant in its insight into the nature of peace itself. In asking to be an instrument of God’s peace, il poverello understood intuitively that the capacity to be an instrument of peace carried with it the ability to “sow” tiny seeds – deliberately and purposefully – of love where there is hatred; harmony where there is discord; pardon where there is injury; truth where there is error; faith where there is doubt; hope where there is despair; light where there is darkness; and joy where there is sadness.

Peace on a global scale, profound peace, begins with peace within the family, peace within the parish community, and peace within the nation. It supposes respect and justice.

Finally, peace among Christians must be focused on Christ, who unites us. It must be based on the Word and on what Jesus did when faced with daunting challenges – prayer, unceasing prayer of the heart.

The apostle Paul understood well the essential character of unity and its intrinsic connection with peace. For instance, he wrote these words of encouragement:Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace.

We see clearly here that peace is the calling of Christians. As such, its understanding cannot be limited to a private relationship with God; it has community implications too.

In fact, at the end of his life, Paul pleaded with those who call themselves Christian to lead lives worthy of our Saviour…in oneness: I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore too lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you were called. with all humility and gentleness and with patience, support each other in love. Take care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all.