6th Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
This past week I gave a talk at a training for over seventy young adults who will be missionaries on Totus Tuus teams here in Wichita and Kansas and across the country. My talk was on prayer in the life of a missionary—what it means to pray for a person sent-out as missionary. What does their prayer look like? Why and how is it different than the prayer of a cloistered Carmelite nun, for example? And I told them something that I knew was going to scandalize them a little bit, but something that they needed to hear and know, that we all need to hear and know: their job is not to save souls, or to teach people rules and commandments, or to help people to “go to heaven.” No. Their job is to help people to encounter Jesus Christ, to meet Christ, and to love him.
Yes, we love Jesus Christ by keeping his commandments. But we keep his commandments as a sign of our love for him. Which means, that we have already met him, that we know him, that we have already encountered him and experienced his love for us! Keeping his commandments is near impossible if we have not first encountered him. Think about it, when you encounter, when you meet someone who loves you, it changes everything! Meeting someone and falling in love with them changes everything! And completely unexpectedly, in a way completely unforeseen by you, your life is filled with peace and joy and happiness—everything else just fades away. All your problems and concerns and anxiety just fades away and you’re at peace. This love puts you at peace. Just liking being underwater at the swimming pool, everything else fades away.
And that is what our readings are driving at today: as a result of God’s love for us there is an outpouring of peace, a peace which the world cannot give to us, a peace that we cannot create for ourselves. As a result of Jesus’ gift of self, as a result of Jesus loving us to the point of death on a cross, there is an outpouring of peace—the peace that the messiah was promised to bring (E.g., Is. 9:6; 52:7). Peace is a sign of the arrival of salvation, of the Kingdom of God, of the Kingdom of God breaking in. The Messiah’s job is to bring peace.
When I told those young adults that their job is not to save souls or to help people to “go to heaven,” they were a little scandalized. And it’s because (usually) we’ve been taught that the Kingdom of God is far away, up in the clouds, the end of our pilgrimage. But that’s not exactly true. Look at our second reading. We hear that John saw “the Holy City of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:10). The Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth, “God’s dwelling is with the human race” (Rev. 21:3). Has anyone here ever prayed the “Our Father”? What is the very thing we pray for in the “Our Father,” in the prayer that Christ himself taught us to pray? “Thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.” Petition number one is that the kingdom of God may come on earth.
And that’s precisely the point! The Kingdom of God is not something we construct, it’s not a political scheme, we can’t elect the right people into office, we cannot pass the perfect laws and then we will have the Kingdom of God. No, that is never going to work.
And yet, we try very hard to manufacture this kind of peace for ourselves. We plan vacations and trips to “get away from it all,” to just live a few days of blissful peace. But then even vacations can be stressful. I remember as a kid how much I loved driving out to Colorado with the family (all ten kids packed into a fifteen passenger van) and how great it was. Turns out those vacations were not quite so blissful and peaceful for my parents. Go figure.
We try to seek this peace in relationships. Again, you fall in love, everything is perfect, she can do no wrong. Just her presence makes everything calm, it brings so much peace. You don’t need anything else. But then, slowly but surely, even that can begin to fade. One, five, ten years into the relationship, just walking in the door and seeing them doesn’t give you the same peace as when you first fell in love.
We seek this peace by making elaborate plans, strategic plans. Again, as long as we have enough money, or a plan to save money, we can retire, we have everything planned out. There should be no anxiety about the future—and yet peace still seems to evade us.
We look for peace in our sin, especially in our vices.
But we cannot construct the Kingdom of God. No, the Kingdom is a gift, it is a gift of God. The experience of peace that we desire is nothing that we can produce ourselves, we cannot give ourselves the peace of Christ, a peace which is beyond all understanding.
Peace, this peace that Christ promises, comes from two places.
First, it comes from knowing that you are loved. No matter how difficult life is, no matter how much stuff we have to deal with each day—when we know we are loved, when we know that there is someone that loves us no matter what, then we can have an enduring peace. And although we may not always feel it, this is something we cannot forget: God loves us. “The truth about ourselves [the truth that we are unconditionally loved by God, even though we are sinful] leads to a peace that refreshes us, allows authentic life to flow again” (Giussani). Even in the most turbulent times of our life, we can return to our faith in God’s unconditional love for us, that he loves us even in our rebellion against him—with God’s love, “a humble calm can penetrate an active pain” (Giussani).
I was working with a high school student once, and she was really struggling with some stuff. And I quickly discovered that her biggest concern was not feeling loved! Because of so many different experiences throughout her life, she didn’t feel like she was loved, or even that she deserved to be loved! And kinda out of the blue I just said, “You know that I love you, right? No matter what.” And all of a sudden she calmed down, balance was restored, peace came. Knowing that you are loved brings peace. So this comes first.
But secondly, the peace that Christ promises comes from loving one another. Go back to our Gospel from last week. The new commandment of Jesus, the new law is nothing other than this love: “Love one another as I have loved you” (c.f., John 13:34). Our very existence as humans is this! Love, giving our selves. It’s a paradox! Yeah! But it’s true! Happiness comes through sacrifice, through sacrificial love. And the more we accept and live this law, the more we experience completeness in our existence, in our very core. This is what Jesus calls “peace.” Growing in this love isn’t easy, no. “To grow in love requires work—hard work. And it can bring pain because it implies loss—loss of the certitudes, comforts, and hurts that shelter and define us” (Vanier, Finding Peace). But ultimately, love brings peace, it brings the Kingdom.
I have been ordained for exactly one year, and on the rare occasion when I have truly loved, when I have truly given myself to others, when I have set myself aside and lived for others—when I have lived a life of love and sacrifice, I have been at peace. When I have been selfish and sinful and self-centered, peace escapes me.
I think Mother Theresa said it best, “We have been created in order to love and to be loved.” That’s it: to love and be loved. That’s when the Kingdom comes, that’s when the peace of Christ comes, and nothing can take that peace away.