Recently I joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My purpose was to deepen further my personal relationship with Jesus. I sought to reflect further on all the ways he revealed the depths of this love for me – and for you – in the places where he revealed this love.
Each of the holy sites where Jesus was conceived, born, lived, died and rose again gave either new insights or deepened insights I had already received. One was the ‘Field of the Shepherds’ where they heard the angels proclaim [Luke 2:14]:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace for those God favours.
‘Who are those whom God favours, and so gives peace?’ Those who accept the personal relationship God offers all through Jesus Christ!. These are Jesus’ disciples today.
Do I enjoy God’s favour?
The more we learn from media about our world today, the more we may well wonder: ‘has there ever been a greater need for peace?’ There is turmoil between nations; within societies; between people and within families.
The New Testament Letter of James reminds us that ‘wars and battles between people’ start ‘inside your own selves’ [James 4:1-2]. Many today seek respite from inner stresses and conflicts through drugs and other addictions. Others are so busy that they may or may not feel the physical stresses caused by deeper stresses.
Jesus came to offer his own peace to everyone who hears his Gospel (or ‘good news’). As he said: ‘My own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give’ [John 14:27]. This peace is always a by-product of accepting Jesus’ power in our lives.
Christmas is a time to ask ourselves questions like: ‘to what extent does inner peace and freedom from inner stresses and conflicts reveal that I enjoy God’s favour?’ We need to be honest with ourselves for none of us has exhausted his or her personal relationship with Jesus.
The Christian mission of peace
As Christians, we cannot simply be concerned about our own peace. Jesus’ final command was to ‘proclaim the Gospel’ to all [Mark 16:15]. Christmas peace is an essential part of this gospel. As only those who enjoy God’s favour have this peace to share, Jesus commanded [Matthew 28:19]
Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them….. and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.
We Christians are to promote Christmas peace by raising the awareness of all we know to the personal relationship Jesus wants with each of them. Many natural and informal opportunities arise, situations when questions about religion, the relevance of the Christian life or the Church arise in discussion, whether within the family, work, social, recreational or other settings.
Again situations can arise in daily life when people who are troubled share their needs and struggles with others. These people can accept Jesus’ help in the same way as did the people in the gospels: by explaining their need to him and asking his help. They accept his invitation to [Matthew 11: 28]:
Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest
Freedom from obstacles to peace
The gospels begin by relating miracle stories that reveal what Jesus offers. These were visible signs, though Jesus’ power – the power of the Kingdom of God – is not limited to the visible.
His healing power, for example, can free also from inner hurts, perhaps from childhood, which deprive people of Christmas peace today. Life hurts can come from many different experiences, including betrayal, the loss of a job, rejection by others, a marriage breaking down or the separation of parents.
Jesus freed cripples to walk, showing he can free us from crippling influences in our lives. These might include low self esteem, dominating emotions, addictions and habits we wish we could change.
Jesus cast out demons, showing his power can free from powerful temptations to do wrong; from vices, and other tendencies stemming from the influence of Satan.
Jesus gave sight to the blind, showing his power to help people to see. Our blindness may be to the good in ourselves or other people; to the solutions to problems we face; to the answers to our human heart questions; to the best option in decision making. More importantly, we may be blind to daily signs of God’s personal love for us or to the meaning of Jesus’ teachings.
We can invite others to relate with Jesus by placing before him hurts they share with us. The same is true if they share crippling influences, personal struggles with temptations and times of confusion. His other miracles teach further ways Jesus can help people in their lives.
Sometimes obstacles people experience stem from personal issues that require counselling and other forms of professional help. Placing their needs before Jesus can raise their awareness of this and strengthen them to take whatever steps are needed.
Jesus taught also that God never answers prayers in ways God knows will be harmful to us or to others [Matthew 7:7-11].
Regardless, heart-felt prayer to Jesus about personal needs always leaves a touch of Christmas peace, for we are relating personally with him. This peace grows as we keep relating with him, growing in God’s favour.
Struggles to follow the path to Christmas peace
As his followers began to recognise who he is, Jesus revealed an even greater degree of power. He taught about his resurrection, which all can experience if, like Jesus, they take up their crosses daily and follow him [Luke 9:23].
The cross was the symbol of Jesus revealing his love as his Father willed. There could be no greater divine appeal to humanity to accept a personal relationship with Jesus than his crucifiction.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because so many in that city refused the relationship he offered. As a result, they did not enjoy ‘God’s favour’. Hence, Jesus’ words [Luke 19:42]:
If you had only recognised on this day the way to peace.
We take up our crosses as we struggle to live Jesus’ teachings we find more difficult. Each struggle involves some self-dying.
Those who accept this struggle know from experience the truth of St Paul’s words that nothing in this life compares with coming ‘to know Christ and the power his resurrection’ [Philippians 3:10]. Gospel examples of struggles to take up daily crosses include striving [Mark 9:33-10:45; Matthew 18:12-22]:
- to make oneself a servant of others
- to be generous
- to remain faithful in marriage until death
- to welcome those others consider to be worthless
- to renounce whatever keeps me from Jesus
- to share in Jesus’ sufferings by suffering because one is Christian
- to lead by serving
- to bring back to Jesus those who have strayed
- to challenge others when they do wrong
- to forgive without limit.
We can invite others to relate with Jesus by pointing out that, to the extent they share such struggles with him – particularly in daily prayer and the Eucharist – Jesus will share with them the power of his resurrection. With that power, they will be enabled gradually to rise above personal weaknesses, temptations and failings.
Sometimes, the power of Jesus can seem slow to help. This depends upon how heart-felt and persistent is the prayer and the strength of the temptation or weakness. Jesus’ power focusses on the deepest causes of the struggle, whereas we may be aware only of symptoms.
The peace of eucharistic love
During the Last Supper, Jesus taught his love commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to lay down their life for their friends’ [John 15:12].
This was the ‘new commandment’ of Jesus [John 14:34]. Previously he had taught his ‘golden rule’ to ‘treat others as you would like them to treat you’ [Matthew 7:12]. Then he taught which were the greatest of the Old Testament commandments – to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself [Luke 10:27].
People normally are not called upon to give their lives for others. However, self dying is needed, for example
- to forgive when we have been hurt deeply
- to keep helping when we feel at the limit
- to turn the other cheek
- to give into an argument for love of the other person, even though we are right
- to serve even when we are taken for granted.
During the Last Supper, Jesus also instituted the Eucharist, which gradually forms those who participate from their hearts to love like Jesus. It empowers dying to oneself for others.
We invite others to accept the deepest communion possible with Jesus by encouraging them to bring their efforts to die to themselves to him in the Eucharist. This leads to the deepest Christmas peace.
The peace of receive forgiveness
Perhaps the greatest personal obstacle to Christmas peace is the guilt that grows after doing wrong. We can grow so used to breaking one or more commandments that we lose awareness of personal guilt so that it is buried within us. Conscience can become numbed.
Yet, even so, a person never feels fully at ease. There is a basic unease they cannot put their finger on.
To give his peace to such people, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance [John 20:23]. We can promote Christmas peace by inviting others to reflect on when last they received this sacrament of peace and inner healing.
Let us all reflect on how much we enjoy God’s favour by reflecting on how inwardly peaceful we are – freed of hurts and other obstacles; of influences that make living as Jesus taught a struggle. If we are truthful with ourselves, we will recognise that in reality, hopefully we are on the journey of this peace as we are on the journey towards ever personal relationships with Jesus.
And let us all recognise that we share in the Christian mission of encouraging others to grow in God’s favour – and Christmas peace – by striving for deeper personal relationships with Jesus.
May the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones this Christmas.
Bishop Gerard Holohan