Solution for World Peace
By Fr. Robert Hutmacher, O.F.M.
My solution comes from Scripture and the Resurrection of Christ, not from geopolitical platforms. The German theologian, Karl Rahner, referred to Jesus as “the Word of God’s forgiveness.” I’ve been enamored with that ascription for years and through God’s grace and the readings of the Easter season this year, I believe I have a fuller understanding of not only Rahner’s words but salvation itself.
Let’s begin with the deeds of the disciples, particularly after the Last Supper. Peter’s denial is recorded in all four Passion Narratives and that sin is a mirror of each one of us in our moments of turning away from God: “I do not know the man.” Immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the words that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly. (MT 26:74-75) Denial. Complete rejection. If you’ve ever been rejected by anyone for any reason, you have some idea of what Jesus had to have felt. It is a pain unlike any other, when one literally feels the ache of rejection.
We are all familiar with the fact that the Crucifixion includes one male disciple and a few faithful women. One man! After three years of giving to others Jesus is abandoned by most of his chosen disciples. The physical suffering of Christ cannot be lessened, but I believe that Jesus died with a broken heart. Even his last words about being abandoned by God echo the lonely human heart in periods of darkness. Jesus so completely identified with and immersed himself into our human nature that he felt (and feels) our moments of rejection, failure and denial.
No one saw the Resurrection. All we have are stories of the empty tomb and appearances to the disciples in various places and circumstances. These are the experiences that shaped our faith system called Christianity. The Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s Death, Resurrection and Ascension is the foundation of all we are and all we believe. “The Eucharist celebrates this one thing and this one thing only: the Passover of Jesus Christ. (Robert Taft, SJ)
Another theological underpinning is the whole purpose of salvation in Christ: he offered his life for us so that we might be free from sin and live forever in the presence of the Holy One. This is why Rahner called Jesus “the Word of God’s forgiveness.” I was and am still touched by that title because the forgiveness of God is something we all know in our lives more than once. There is no sin that God will not forgive. Not one sin! Such is the love of our Creator. The first disciples knew that forgiveness in a powerful and very real manner.
Consider one of those moments in life when you turned against God, one of what we call the really BIG ones! Remember feeling trapped in its clutches, afraid God would not forgive you? Remember the fear, the denial or even outright anger at yourself? Memories of sin can haunt you for years. The longest I’ve known someone to have run from God because of fear that “He won’t forgive that” is 80 years. Yes, 80! Call to mind an incident in which you inflicted pain on another person with an act of violence or words that were like a Toledo sword blade or just plain hate. Clouds of remorse, anger, grudge, delight in having hurt someone coagulate into one horrid attitude that can cause self-destruction and at the very least a loss of happiness and respect for others.
Now you have some idea of what Jesus, Peter, James and the others may have felt. All of us can both cause pain in someone else and are receptors of rejection, denial and outright hate. The Church professes that Jesus was human like us in all things but sin, so now it’s possible to understand why he might have screamed from the cross “why have you abandoned me?” We can understand the fear our children have when bullied in school. It’s possible for us to have a vague idea of what martyrdom may feel like. Our memories of pain and rejection never leave us. But we can CHOOSE to leave those memories buried and live life to its fullest now.
Part of my Easter morning homily this year was about the tombs you and I create in our hearts. I’m speaking about those deepest recesses wherein we hide the worst things we’ve ever done, the sins we may think God will not forgive. That dark hole is like a tomb: it’s full of darkness and death. But the purpose of the Incarnation, the very reason for salvation in Christ is that all humans, for all time, may know the forgiveness of God. We do not have to live in sin, do not have to cripple ourselves with memories from 10 or 25 or 80 years ago. God is always, always, always present and willing to forgive our sins. All our sins. And if there is a tomb of dark sin from the past, now consider the miracle of Easter.
So the disciples had, for the most part, all run away. Many of the appearance stories report that they were “gathered in the upper room out of fear…” And there you have it…men and women just like ourselves absolutely crippled and frozen with fear. Until HE came to them miraculously. What’s so often the first word to come from the Resurrected Christ? Peace. Yes, “Peace I give you, my peace I leave you.” Here’s “the man like us in all things but sin” showing his close friends that he did NOT hold a grudge, did NOT strike back out of anger, did NOT inflict harm on anyone for what they’d done. He invited them to touch him. TOUCH HIM! He talked with them, ate with them, enlightened them, forgave them, loved them. This is the most significant miracle Christ worked while among us – he was raised from the dead by the power of God and by that same power, raised his friends, his beloved ones, from their grief and fear. This is the miracle of Easter, the whole purpose of salvation. The Word of God’s forgiveness is brought to life and “lives among us for the forgiveness of sin.” This is the ongoing miracle of Easter within our lives that is always waiting for us when we need it.
I like to call those deep recesses in the human heart where memories fester our own tombs. In the cesspool of time, feelings and spiritual emptiness we seal off life. If the tomb is left sealed it will simply grow in size until it saps the life and happiness from its host. That’s us when we hold on to grudges or hide from God, even resist God’s love or the tender compassion of the Church’s sacraments. We rot in sin and cheat ourselves out of God’s love and forgiveness, to say nothing of those around us.
The response of the disciples is a window into human nature and the Risen Lord. You get a glimpse of it in the Resurrection stories. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb, Peter looked in but the other believed. Some wouldn’t believe Mary Magdalene. Poor Thomas came to belief only after seeing and touching. What I find so overwhelmingly lovely, though, is how Jesus walks with and talks with the disciples. He gradually helps them understand all that was said about his role in salvation, “beginning with the law and the prophets.” He was so patient with their unbelief, except Mark 16:14 where Jesus “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.”
The Third Sunday of Easter we heard this passage from Luke 24:45 ff: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Then followed his Ascension to heaven. And there you have what I consider to be a solution for world peace.
The Gospel of Luke begins in Jerusalem and ends there with the great commission in chapter 24. The forgiveness of sins flows throughout Luke’s Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles. Clearly, forgiveness from God is the great gift of salvation, the act of God in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Once the disciples knew the forgiveness of God themselves, the Lord commanded them to preach about it to the entire world. Also on the Third Sunday of Easter we heard Peter preach: “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”(Acts 3:17-19) The message is clear! The Word of God’s forgiveness brings salvation to anyone and everyone who believes and asks for it.
It is this gift of forgiveness from the very heart of God that I believe can bring peace. Remember those times you opened your heart to the forgiving Lord and let go of past sins or even more powerfully, forgave someone who’d hurt you? Those are the times I like to imagine that those dark tombs in our hearts are unsealed and shattered by the grace of God. New life pours in as a human heart consequently knows that there is an alternative to a constricted or sinful existence. Fears, pain, horror, even hate is replaced with a definite sense of freedom. The heart is no longer constricted but allowed to freely beat with the very life and love of God. I liken the marvels of forgiveness to images of chains or shackles being broken, often symbols of freed slaves; and that’s how Saint Paul described a life of wanton behavior, as slavery to sin. That freedom, then, brings the forgiven heart the ability and courage to bring the gift of reconciliation to others.
I’m not so naïve as to think that the U.S. will sit down with her enemies tomorrow and talk about the Easter Mystery or the power of the Sacrament of Penance. However, if those in power would dare be humble enough as to trust more and remember what it’s like to be forgiven we could live in a very different world.
St. Francis added a verse to his Canticle of the Creatures in 1225: Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned. He wrote it to settle a dispute between the mayor and bishop of Assisi. The friars sang it before both of them and all the religious and civil leaders of the city – and it moved them to tears, moved them to reconcile and live in peace.
We, in this country, have sterilized the process of reconciliation because of our cherished separation of Church and State, because of the pervasive haughtiness and lack of manners in our culture and the selfishness on both sides of the aisle in Congress. I can’t wait to hear what Pope Francis has to say before a joint session in September and the responses he’s given. But when breakthroughs have been made throughout history, it took humility, honesty and courage to reconcile. Witness Germany and Japan after WWII with the U.S. Whether in marriage, within the Church’s tribunals, in business deals or between individuals, peace comes from the desire to change attitudes and actions. Even children can do this! That’s the power of that story about Francis with the mayor and bishop of Assisi – both civil and religious leaders dropped all their defenses, attitudes, selfishness and saw that life together is much more free and enjoyable than holding grudges or clinging to hatred. Witness racial tensions here at home. But when groups work together to reach respect and understanding, to see that we all have much more in common than that which divides us, people do live together in harmony.
A religious community is a microcosm of the Church. If you look at the friars at St. Peter’s, you will see men from Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, and the Midwest. We’ve had friars live with us from Italy, Brazil, Africa….we are the world! One of the coolest experiences I had in my 22 years here was walking down Madison St. a few years ago with two other friars, one white, one Hispanic, one African-American. We were laughing and carrying on and people were staring at us! Why? You answer that! All God’s children have a place within our fraternity and that is our witness to the world; we are a mirror to others that peace is a lived reality when we simply and honestly respect one another, live humbly as brothers, forgive and make God the obvious source of our life. After more than 46 years as a friar, I revel in this!
Read about why Pope Francis declared a Holy Year of Mercy that begins December 8. Reconcile with someone in your life to reap the harvest of peace in you family or business. Study why Francis of Assisi is called “the little man of peace.” Pray over biblical passages about forgiveness and reconciliation. May God give you peace for your support of St. Peter’s and the ways your bring God’s Word of forgiveness to others.