(Sixth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on May 1, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 14: 23-29.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2016]
What’s the opposite of peace?
Think about how you’d answer that question.
What’s the opposite of peace?
Is it war—or hatred—or fighting—or disharmony—or disagreement—or conflict—or agitation?
Those are some of the words you’ll find in a thesaurus when you look up antonyms (opposites) of the word “peace”.
I know that because I did it the other day in preparation for this homily.
Now it’s very interesting, one word that I did not find in any of my research is the word that I believe Jesus would have used had someone asked him this question 2,000 years ago during his earthly ministry.
Had someone said to him, “Lord, what’s the opposite of peace?” I really believe Jesus would have said, “Oh that’s easy.
The opposite of peace—real peace—is SIN!”
Not war, not hatred, not conflict, not any of the others, but rather sin.
I base that assertion on what Jesus says to us in today’s gospel reading from John 14. There he speaks about peace; but he does so only AFTER he speaks about love and obedience. He begins by saying, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” In other words, “Whoever loves me will obey me.” To obey Jesus, of course, means TO AVOID SIN. Then, a few verses later, he mentions peace. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
In the eyes of the world, peace means “the absence of war”: that’s the kind of peace the world “gives”.
But that’s a very superficial—as well as a very flimsy—kind of peace, is it not?
And the reason it’s so superficial and so flimsy is because it can actually COEXIST with sin! You can hate someone with every fiber of your being; you can refuse to forgive that person for the things they’ve done to you; you can refuse to speak to them or even acknowledge their existence: as long as you’re not at war with the person—as long as you’re not directly attacking him or her in some way—you’re “at peace” with them in the eyes of the world.
This is the kind of “peace” we had with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Some of us are old enough to remember those days. There were no bombs dropped during the Cold War (although we came close during the Cuban Missile Crisis); there were no soldiers dying on the battlefield; there were no declarations of war by the two countries—so, technically speaking, we were “at peace”. But behind it all and at the same time there was a lot of anger and bitterness and hatred in the hearts of people in both nations.
The Cold War is a great example of the kind of peace “the world gives”: a peace that often coexists with sins like hatred.
The peace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior (that is to say, real peace) is different. The peace of Jesus is about two things: being “right with God” and being “right with your neighbor”. This means, quite simply, that if you want the peace of Jesus Christ in your life, you need to begin with repentance—because that’s the only way to “get right” with God!
Please hear that, especially if you haven’t been to confession in a while.
And repentance, if it’s genuine, leads to a firm purpose of amendment. In other words, it leads to OBEDIENCE: obedience to the Lord’s word, obedience to his commandments (especially the two great commandments: to love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself).
This is why I said that, for Jesus, the opposite of peace is SIN. Worldly peace and sin can coexist, but real peace and sin cannot.
So—you wanna know why there’s so little real peace in the world? It’s because a lot of people nowadays believe the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ believed! For Jesus, peace and sin were antonyms, but for many people in our world right now peace and sin are not antonyms, they’re almost synonyms! They go together! These men and women think they can have real peace in their lives while stubbornly clinging to their sins—especially their serious ones.
But that is impossible.
Fr. Roger Landry of the Diocese of Fall River said it beautifully in a homily he gave several years ago. He said, “Just think what our world—from our families, to our schools, to our communities, to our nation, to the international community—would be like if we all just minimally kept the Ten Commandments. Everyone would center their life on God. People would come together to worship God. There would be no swearing. Parents and children would honor each other. There would be no murder. No hatred. No broken families. No cheating. No robbery. No lying. No personal or class envy. Christians often sing, ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.’ If we want that peace on earth, Jesus tells us it begins concretely with your and my keeping the commandments.”
And, I would add, repenting if we break them!
Lord Jesus, give us the grace to do these things: the grace to obey, and the grace to repent when we don’t obey, so that we will be able to do our part in bringing peace—your peace—real peace—more fully into our world. Amen.