BISHOP’S 2004 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE: THE EUCHARIST AND PEACE ON EARTH
Christmas is a time to get back to basics. One of these is the secret to true peace. This is the peace for which every human heart yearns.
The angels sang of true peace with the words ‘peace on earth’. This is the peace Jesus came to bring [Luke 1:79; 2:14]. True peace is the harmony with God that brings two effects. The first is peace within, and second is peace with others.
This too is the peace Jesus had in mind when he said: ‘my peace is not the peace of this world’ [John 14:27]. This is the peace ‘you can find in me’ [John 16:33].
The peace found in Christ is much more than the absence of war, arguments or tensions. It leads to harmony between spouses, within families, among friends and between community members – and, ultimately, between nations. The peace, found in Christ, grows within each of us to the extent that we draw closer in personal relationship with him.
The Eucharist: selfless love and peace
In the Gospel of John, several themes related to growing personal relationship with Christ are threaded together in the account of the Last Supper. We read Jesus speaking of peace, of oneness with God – and of selfless love [John 14:27; 15:10; 15:13].
This is the love required for ‘peace on earth’, the peace that is ‘not the peace of this world’. Only selfless human love reflects God, for God’s love is only selfless and self-giving.
Indeed, God’s selfless love is never self centred. It is always forgiving and merciful [Matthew 5:43-45; 6:14]. It is always patient [2 Peter 3:9]. Jesus taught much about this love. The greatest proof of its selflessness was God the Father giving his only Son to the world [John 3:16].
Only God-like selfless love can bring true peace to the human heart. Yet, totally selfless love is beyond the capacity of human beings on their own.
This is one reason why, during the Last Supper, Jesus gave us the Eucharist. Two of its fruits are growing closeness with Christ, and the spiritual nourishment of self-giving love , both of which are needed for true peace [Catechism 1391, 1394]. Growing closeness with Christ, and Christ-like love, grow stronger subtly, just as nourishing food subtly strengthens the body.
The Eucharist, then, is essential for the peace Jesus promised we could find in him [John 16:33]. Without this, our capacity to contribute to peace on earth would be much more limited.
In the Eucharist, Christ is present, offering himself to the Father for us all in pure, self-giving love. At the Last Supper, he said: ‘This is my body, given for you’, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you’ [Luke 22:19-20]. Our thoughts can never move far from the Last Supper in this Year of the Eucharist.
Self-centredness undermines peace
Catholics no longer going to Mass often say: ‘I get nothing out of it’ ‘It does nothing for me’. Many pray little, or only when they want something. Yet, no relationship – either with Jesus or with anyone else – can grow without selfless love. And true peace can be found only in him [John 16:33]
One of the basic causes of the decline in religious practice in Australia today is the self-centred culture of our society. People ask: ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Why should I put myself out?’ ‘What will I get out of it?’
To join in the Eucharist only if ‘I get something out of it’ is the very opposite attitude to that of Jesus. We grow in communion with him to the extent that, like him, our self-offering expresses selfless love to God the Father.
The same is true of daily prayer. This is a pre-requisite for the heart-felt Eucharistic worship needed for true peace. As the summit of Christian prayer, the Eucharist must be built upon daily prayer. This too, at least sometimes, must be self-giving.
While daily prayer can bring many rewards, we need times when we seem ‘to get nothing out of it’. Selflessness is required for any human relationship to deepen to the level of heart-felt communion, and selfless prayer is important for the level of communion with God needed to become instruments of God’s peace.
St Theresa of Lisieux, for example, prayed in her last years ‘as though I had faith’. Her prayer seemed absolutely dry and unrewarding. Her prayer attitude was completely self-giving – the very opposite of the attitude of people who pray ‘when I feel like it’, ‘when I get something out of it’ or ‘when I want something’.
Where personal prayer declines, self offering through the Eucharist also declines. So too will the peace found in Jesus, and our capacity to be instruments of ‘peace on earth’.
Let us renew ourselves
Let us renew our commitment this Christmas to advancing true peace on earth. No-one can argue that this peace is needed today in so many marriages and families. It is needed across our society and the whole world.
First, let us use every opportunity to encourage others to renew their relationship with God. Peace on earth needs to start in the heart of every human person.
People not growing in harmony with Jesus as their lives progress cannot really contribute to true ‘peace on earth’. Let us encourage in particular our family members and friends to renew their harmony with God this Christmas.
Second, let us renew our faith in the Eucharist as self-giving worship. Let us help others also to appreciate that self-giving love to God in the Eucharist, and in daily prayer, is needed for communion with God. This is the only communion that brings us the peace we need to become instruments of ‘peace on earth’.
Finally, let us encourage others to remember the words of Jesus [John 16:33]:
I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me.
May the peace of Christ grow in all our hearts this Christmas – and, through us, lead to greater peace on earth.
+ Gerard J Holohan
Bishop of Bunbury