Sunday, May 26, 2019

Peace I Leave to You

(Photo courtesy: Jean-Mark Arkalian)

The Gospel reading for 6th Sunday of Easter, John 14:23-29, is magnificent in its content.  Our Catholic vocabulary is rich with a number of momentous monosyllables: God, Christ, church, faith, hope love, prayer, cross, hell and so on.  They are full of meaning and full of mystery.

Today, we have another monosyllable that we meet in the Gospel: "Peace I leave to you" Jn 14:27: "Peace". 

Everybody knows what peace is.  But do we know exactly what kind of peace Jesus is talking about?  What does peace mean in the promise of Jesus?  Is peace a problem?

We live in an unpeaceful world, wars are raging, conflicts are everywhere.  From Middle East, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, to African continent, from Palestine to our own Kashmir Valley is bloody.  Refugees are fleeing from one country to another in search of better prospects and security.  Latinos are moving to United States and from Asia and Africa people are making their way into the European continent.

On 24 May 2019, our Jesuit General Arturo Sosa wrote to the Society of Jesus saying "last year the United Nations refugee agency reported that 68.5 million people had been forced from their homes, the highest number ever recorded.  25.4 million of these are refugees who fled their own countries to find safety and protection across international borders."  Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which was founded by Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ in 1980 "now serves 640,000 people in 53 countries; 1 in every 100 forcibly displaced person in the world today is directly supported or served by JRS.

In this contest, we are almost called to spy for peace on earth.  Jesus promises peace but he warns in his peaching: "Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword" Mt 10:34. In another place Jesus speaks about "dissension", "division", "disunity" Lk 12: 51.  Scripture itself is a paradox, some would call it a flat contradiction.  In such contradictions we are called to find meaning in what Jesus says.  

Is peace really possible?  Does Shalom make any sense to us when there is so much, hatred, jealousy, war, fear, anger, discord, dislike, pride, anxiety, angst and so on.  When you see the absence of God in this world, is peace possible?  Is there a chance for peace?

The promise of peace for Jesus is different.

In the Old Testament, Biblical peace is rich with content that no English word can render it adequately.  Peace means that things are going on well with you; you are happy; you feel secure; you have friends; you have a fruitful land; eat your fill and sleep without fear, multiply your progeny and triumph over your enemies.

For Israelites peace was not simply harmony with nature, with self and with others. It meant true harmony with God, a right relationship with Yahweh, for "the Lord is peace" Judg 6:24.  It was an encounter with a living God and who is always at their side. 

In this sense peace was salvation. Ultimately it is realised in the communion with Him who gives all that is good.

Peace that Jesus announces is that of saving peace; "My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" Jn 14:27. 

The sinful woman after washing the feet of Jesus with tears sent with the words "go in peace" Lk 7:50, 48, because her sins are forgiven.

With the greeting "peace to this house" Lk 10:5, the disciples offer salvation to the towns during their proclamation of Jesus' mission and where Jesus would go.  Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is marked with shouts of joy and with peace.

Peter preaches the Easter Peace to the ends of the earth. "You know the word which [God] sent to Israel, preaching the good news that is peace though Jesus Christ" Acts 10: 36-37.

The gospel is peace, peace is the gospel.  "Peace rules our hearts" exclaims Paul in Col 3:15.  Peace is the "fruit of the Holy Spirit" Gal 5:22.

God of peace is the one who saves. a heart at peace heart in communion with its God in Christ Jesus.

The peace Jesus is speaking about is that the world cannot give.  This peace is a blessing, where everything is reconciled with the Creator.  It's a redemptive peace.   It is a reconciled peace through Christ.

The paradox is that peace of Christ can coexist with war in the world, with human agony, suffering, death and various forms of dying and destruction.

Jesus gives us courage to our troubled souls. He says, "I have said this to you that in me you may find peace.  In the world you find suffering, but have courage.  I have conquered the world" Jn 16:33. 

When there is so much of anti-God, anti-peace activities going on in the world, love can stand above all this.  Because in this broken world God became human like us, lived among us, suffered, died and conquered the world.  This is the good news for us.

We often sing, "where peace and charity are found, there God abides". In Christ peace and love abides.  We believe in him, we trust in him, we follow him, we love him, we also resurrect with him. 

Through a living faith, a loving faith and yes, a crucifying faith we can conquer this world.  Christ, our Saviour has shown the path. 

The paradox is when you open your heart to others you will experience the peace of Christ.  You will feel his real presence.  So do not be discouraged.  We are called to transform this world, ourselves and others. A new paradigm shift happens here.  Everyone is called to this unique mission through our baptism. 

Jesus gives his disciples the ability to abandon themselves to God.  In this abandonment, if they allow themselves, they can come to know true joy.

In a few moments from now at the Mass,  we will wish one another peace. Let's wish one another freedom from anxiety within.  Wish one another harmony and health;  pray that everyone who is here may experience peace of the Lord.  Wish everyone good things, happy things.

Thus the presence of Christ will make your "spirit spin," your "bones to quake, "your blood run thin," your "flesh to melt inside your skin," your "very pulse create a din" - aware "That Heaven is / not up, but in"!  (From a poem by Sister Mary Ignatius "Discovery").
It's this that makes
My spirit spin,
My bones to quake,
My blood run thin,
My flesh to melt
Inside my skin,
My very pulse
Create a din-
It's this that makes
My spirit spin:
That Heaven is
Not up, but in!

Olvin Veigas, SJ

26 May 2019

Monday, May 6, 2019

Risen Jesus, Fish and Flock

(Photo courtesy: Jean-Mark Arkalian)

The Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of the Easter, John 21: 1-19,  where Jesus appears to seven disciples and the special final conversation with Peter, the Apostle, is really fascinating and intriguing.  The experience of the disciples of the Risen Jesus has something concretely to say to us in recognising the presence of God and of Jesus in our daily lives.  To be an authentic and genuine disciple of Jesus it's not just to be "holy" or to be good but to have courage and boldness when the call comes to do uncomfortable and difficult things including ready to suffer.  Thus sharing the suffering of Jesus we also share in his glory eternal. 

Basically two things happen in the gospel narrative: Firstly, Jesus' appearance to his 7 disciples while fishing by the Sea of Tiberias.  Secondly, Jesus having an intimate talk with Peter and giving a job of leading Jesus' mission with other disciples on this earth. 

Disciples are back from Jerusalem to their native land of Galilee, from the city of God to the city of man, from the mountain of Calvary to the plateau of Galilee, from following the Rabbi Jesus to fishing in the sea.

Disciples being back in their homeland, Galilee, who loved fishing, go back to fishing, their first job, back to ordinary business.  Looks like they have forgotten their skill as nets are empty in spite of whole night's labour and waiting.  There they meet Risen Jesus in ordinary things, just like Jesus had called them for the first time, so too now, Jesus makes an appearance to them in person.  However, for the moment in a different form after three years, since he met them mending their nets.  Jesus meets them in the things they liked to do most, that is, fishing. 

But the meeting with Jesus is now different from the last time.  All the 7 disciples on the boat are frustrated, disappointed because they caught nothing.  Desolated.  depression is surrounded them after what has happened in Jerusalem.  Whole night has been spent in the boat and now terribly tiered. The weariness has led them to silence.  Hunger and thirst is eating their forlorn spirits.  Their bodies are longing for sleep and rest.  Hopelessness has surrounded in every inch of their boat, in a sense the world is closed.  A deep sense of emptiness in their hearts and minds because their nets are empty;  they are still waiting.  In this drudgery and messiness the Risen Jesus meets them.  Don’t you think it must have been such a beautiful experience to them? 

Jesus also meets us in the things that we like most. The things that we do with great faith and consolation.  Disciples had forgotten the words of Jesus: "Without me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  When we forget God, God remembers us and comes close to us.  All the more, Jesus is present in those things that brings good for ourselves and others

In the symbolism of the gospels, the boat and those in it represent the church, the community in Christ.  And it is this “beloved” disciple, who is particularly close to Jesus, who can recognise his presence.  We too are called to lead others, and recognise God's presence and lead many more to him. 

The second incident that takes place in that episode is Risen Jesus asking Peter a very touching question, an intimate question: "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"

Probably we do not like to hear a repeated question from our close friends or from the person whom we love most.

Firstly, that is emotional, and carries a sense of suspicion and apprehension. Moreover, this puts the person in awkward position. 
Secondly, Jesus is asking a very serous question of following him; checks Peter's faithfulness.  It is a reminder to Peter that he may not fail again.  He was reluctant when Jesus wanted to wash his feet.  He had denied Jesus  already 3 times when he was caught by the elders and chief priests.  Peter had already said to Jesus that even his other 11 disciples disowned him yet he would not.   He would give his life to his master. Jesus also knows the earlier episodes of catching fish and when he recognised  Jesus he had jumped into the sea, tried to imitate Jesus by walking on the water but failed miserably and was sinking and Jesus had saved him (Matthew: 14:30).  

The first call of Peter at the Sea of Galilee while casting the net along with his brother Andrew becomes a reality now with those words of Jesus "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." (Mt 4:18-19).  And now he has to "Feed my lambs" (John 21: 15-19). Peter's call turns into transforming leader giving a spirited leadership to his discouraged brothers and frustrated followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Easter experiences make the disciples bold, strong and faithful. There is nothing that can deter them or destroy their new found enthusiasm.

  1. Is Jesus present in our endeavours?
  2. Has the Lord’s presence made a difference in our lives?
  3. Am I ready to long for Jesus and embrace him in my frustrations, desolations, disappointments, emptiness, weariness, sleepiness, hopelessness, depression, tiredness, loneliness, hunger and thirst, waiting and fatigue? 
A prayer to live by

Perhaps we could finish with the words of a prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman (slightly adapted), which beautifully expresses what we have been considering:

Dear Jesus,

help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.

Flood my soul with your spirit and life.

Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly

that all my life may be only a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me and be so in me

that every person I come in contact with

will feel your presence in me.

Let them look up and see,

not only me, but also Jesus.”

- Olvin Veigas, SJ

06 May 2019