Monday, January 1, 2007

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God- World Day of Peace

Preached at the Vigil Mass for this Solemnity, 31 December 2006.

Readings: Num 6,22-27; Ps 67,2-3.5-6.8; Gal 4,4-7; Lk 2,16-21

Today we mark the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This solemnity also marks the World Day of Peace. The convergence is that Mary, the Mother of God, is our Queen of Peace because she is the mother of the Prince of Peace. Therefore, she is a privileged channel through whom prayers are answered and graces dispensed. The theme chosen this year by our Holy Father for this day is The Human Person, the Heart of Peace. Because we are created in the image and likeness of God, each of us, along with every other human being, has the dignity of a person. In this we see that we are not merely something, we are someone. As persons we are "capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others. At the same time, each person is called, by grace, to a covenant with the Creator, called to offer [God] a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in [our] place" (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 2).

St. Augustine observed that "God created us without our aid; but he did not choose to save us without our aid" (Sermo 169, 11, 13: PL 38, 923-citation from Pope Benedict's message). Our salvation, then, is both a gift and a task. This also holds true for peace because achieving peace with God, each other, and nature is the work of redemption and it is difficult, back-breaking, not to mention often heart-breaking, work. Because, as St. Paul writes, Christ "is our peace" (Eph 2,14) there is a very real sense in which peace is a gift from God, a grace. To realize this gift, to receive this grace, we must unfailingly commit ourselves to building relationships of justice and solidarity.

Our baptismal vocation, through which, by grace, we enter into covenant with the Creator, is to work toward restoring those harmonies that were lost due to our disobedience. From the beginning, God ordered creation to be peaceful and harmonious. As we read in the narratives of creation, which do not reveal to us the how, but the why of creation, originally there was harmony between God and people, between people themselves, and between people and nature. God’s plan was not frustrated because of the disruption of these harmonies that resulted from disobedience. Rather, we have the felix culpa, the blessed fault, so that when "the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as [children]" (Gal 4,4-5). So, from the moment of our fall from grace, God set about redeeming the world, restoring the peace and harmony, indeed, the communion God intends for creation.

Chief among the tasks to which our common vocation calls us is working for justice. For there can be no true or lasting peace without justice. In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict discusses several of the specific tasks that comprise the grand task of bringing about God’s reign on the earth. First among these is safeguarding and protecting the right to life of each person. To do this, we are taught, "we must denounce its widespread violation in our society: alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terrorism and the different forms of violence," the Holy Father continues, "there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos and euthanasia. How can we fail to see in all this an attack on peace? Abortion and embryonic experimentation constitute a direct denial of that attitude of acceptance of others which is indispensable for establishing lasting relationships of peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 5). Besides, without the right to life, no other right has much meaning or significance.

The second task set before us is working to guarantee and safeguard freedom of religion. The lack of this fundamental freedom in many parts of the world, the Pontiff observes, is "another disturbing symptom of lack of peace" and "is represented by the difficulties that both Christians and the followers of other religions frequently encounter in publicly and freely professing their religious convictions." There are two ways in which freedom of religion is denied. First, there are those "regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone." Second, there are secular regimes that do not so much violently persecute people of faith, as systematically and culturally denigrate religious beliefs and believers, denying full participation in the civil affairs of the societies in which they live. "In both instances, a fundamental human right is not being respected, with serious repercussions for peaceful coexistence" (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 5).

We must also work to bring about a more just economic order that leads to a more equitable distribution of the earth’s bounty. Along with bringing about a more just economic order, we must exercise better stewardship over the environment, which sustains life. It is not uncommon to hear or read in this age of rampant globalization that wealth creation is not a zero-sum game and that a rising tide lifts all boats. Rising tides caused by global warming also engulf arable land and destroy ecosystems and habitats that cause further acceleration of what is already an alarming rate of extinction of species. Insofar as wealth creation and economic growth are dependent on natural resources, there is a limit to what we can sustainably produce. Hence, while not a zero-sum game, exactly; there are limits to our economic activities. We are becoming ever more aware of the deleterious impact of human activity on the environment. Therefore, we must take seriously the stewardship God has given us to protect the world He so lovingly created for us.

We must also work to eliminate the inequalities between people on the basis of race and gender. In our country at present, this is manifested most profoundly as regards immigrants and immigration. Therefore, we must act justly, vote justly, and urge our elected officials to do justice in the service of the common good. Getting very specific, let us call on our leaders, as President Reagan called upon Mikhail Gorbachev, "to tear down this wall!"

Finally, in a world that seems to be drowning in blood due to war and terrorism, we must work and pray for peaceful solutions to problems between peoples, seeking to remedy the injustices that cause many to lash out violently in anger. We need to pray for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, and those who live in the many other areas where armed conflicts currently rage. We must come see that war only ever results from failure and that violence rarely, if ever, produces a lasting, or just solution.

My sisters and brothers this is a very tall order. However, we move forward in the confidence that the child born in Bethlehem, Mary’s baby, the Savior of the world, the one who makes our peace with God and, hence, is our peace, is with us, willing and bringing to completion the peace and harmony of all creation. However, we must keep in mind the observation of Leo Tolstoy: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." As we ring in the New Year let us sing in our hearts, "let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." In this Mass, when we offer each other the sign peace, let us be more mindful than ever that our thirst for justice and our hunger for solidarity are rooted in the Eucharist. By doing so we recognize what Archbishop Francisco Javier Martinez has articulated, that "the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject".

At the beginning of the year 2007, let us entrust all the urgent intentions we have just expressed to Mary, the Queen of Peace. Let us pray with the Holy Father, "May Mary show us, in her Son, the Way of peace, and enlighten our vision, so that we can recognize Christ's face in the face of every human person, the heart of peace!" (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 17). As God’s People who embody His Son, and of whom Mary is mother, let us begin the New Year with the blessing of our Almighty Father, "The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!" (Num 6,24-26)

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