Below is the text of a homily preached by Fr Kevin O’Gorman SMA on Sunday February 5th, during the Novena in honour of our Lady of Lourdes at Wilton Parish Church, Cork.
Alongside the cost of living crisis the question of peace concerns the very condition of our living, whether we live in fear or freedom, in conflict or concord. Opening the newspaper or turning on the television we are daily faced with the furious sights and sounds of warfare. The technology is truly frightening, the casualties tragic. The so-called just-war theory lays down the principle of non-combatant immunity which the indiscriminate involvement of modern instruments of warfare ignores, incurring huge costs in physical and psychological injuries for civilians. The centennial commemoration of the Civil War in this country holds up a history which left as a legacy the lesson that war is never civil. Thankfully we do have cause for celebration this year – the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.
I spent the 1990s as an SMA priest in South Africa. From Saint John Vianney seminary in Pretoria we looked across the valley to the Union Buildings where Nelson Mandela was installed as first President of the multiracial republic. After the awful years of apartheid peaceful co-existence in this beautiful, bounteous land peace became a possibility. Peaceful living together is only possible where justice is pursued and practiced – the more relations between people are based on justice the more permanent and profound the peace. Peace is not just the absence of conflict but the presence of justice which is conducive to a good life with others.
The readings for today’s mass reflect the theme of light, taken up by the prophet who portrays the person of integrity as one who is generous and charitable to others and who does not turn from his own kin. The life of the just person is likened to a ‘light shin[ing] like the dawn’, taken up in the response to the psalm – ‘the good person is a light in the darkness for the upright. In the Gospel Jesus tells his followers that they ‘are the light of the world’ and that they must shine in the sight of people, so that, ‘seeing [their] good works, they may give praise to’ God. This comes soon after Jesus counted among the Blessed – the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9). Peacemakers live in the light of truth, relating respectfully and justly with other people.
The Our Father ends with the petition ‘but deliver us from evil’. In the Rite of Communion this plea is immediately taken up – ‘Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil’ and goes on to ask ‘graciously grant peace in our days’. Repeating the prayer for deliverance from evil acknowledges our vulnerability and the horrors of viciousness and violence which assail people all over the world ; ‘in our days’ is the awareness of the constant need for peace. The Gospels tell us that after His resurrection the Lord Jesus prefaced his appearances to the apostles with the greeting, ‘Peace be with you’. This is the peace that Christ procured for us through his passion, the pathway to and price paid for our safe passage through the evils of division, destructiveness and death. Peace is mentioned three times in this prayer, a reminder both of our pressing need for peace and the promise that God the Father will preserve us in the permanent peace of the Risen Lord Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, as Pope Francis said in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last Wednesday, ‘we are called to be missionaries of peace, and this will bring us peace. It is a decision we have to make: to believe that ethnic, regional, social, religious and cultural differences are secondary and not obstacles; that others are our brothers and sisters, members of the same human community; and that the peace brought into the world by Jesus is meant for everyone. Yes, Christians, sent by Christ, are called by definition to be a conscience of peace in our world’.
Each year the church celebrates the World Day of Peace on January 1st with the feast of The Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God. One of the Entrance Antiphons for the Mass on that day is adapted from the great prophet of peace Isaiah: Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us; and he will be called Wondrous God, Prince of peace.