May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace (Nb 6:24).
It was Blessed Pope Paul VI who decreed that the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God would also be kept as a World Day of Prayer for Peace. That happened for the first time on 1st January 1968. Subsequently the Scottish Bishops, for reasons they presumably thought both clear and cogent, decided to transfer their own special day for justice and peace to the feast of the Epiphany. That notwithstanding, it seems very appropriate that today we should look out on the coming year, in union with the whole Church, explicitly asking for the gift of peace.
We do so this year with the memory of the First World War particularly in mind. We do it also with a sense of deep disquiet about the current state of the world. There is so much conflict, so much violence, so many refugees, so much instability, so much darkness!
St. Edith Stein reflected on the feasts of martyrdom that follow Christmas, and had this to say:
Where, now, is the rejoicing of the heavenly hosts? Where the silence of blessedness of the holy night? Where the peace upon earth? “Peace on earth to men of good will”, sang the Angels. But all are not of good will.
These words, which we read in our refectory on the Feast of St. Stephen, have particular poignancy in that St. Edith herself became engulfed by the evil will of those who hated both her race and her religion. She died a martyr, murdered along with so many others in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. And after the Second World War people cried out Never again! But that cry seems to ring quite hollow today, as ever new wars, new hatreds, new deeds of darkness claim their countless victims all over the world.
The blessing of Aaron we heard in our first reading today is quite clear about the source of peace, and of all blessing. The peace that comes from God, the peace for which we pray is different from a merely worldly peace. That can be the product of one nation exerting military dominance; or it can be purchased by sheer economic power; sometimes it can be found, in the short term, through craven surrender to evil. But peace that conceals hidden violence or injustice cannot be true peace. The peace which the gates at the end of our drive proclaim comes to us explicitly as a gift from God. The peace which we believe in, which we hope for, and for which we fervently pray is the peace of Christ. As St. Paul boldly stated it: He is our peace (Eph 2:14). And who is Christ? Today’s feast proclaims it; his holy Mother shows him to us: he is true God and true man; he is God the Son in human flesh; he is our Saviour, and our redeemer; he is the one whom Isaiah called the Prince of peace (Is 9:7). He conquers not by the sword, but by the power of his love, and his goodness, and his mercy. He is light amid our darkness. He offers us life, and hope. He came to announce peace; peace in the first place with God; and peace also among men.
According to St. Paul, the peace of God is beyond our understanding (Phil 4:7). That’s not because it is entirely different from earthly peace, but because it has a richness, a depth and a power that surpasses anything we could imagine or even dream of. Today we pray that this peace come, for ourselves, for all those we love, for our world. In a special way we pray for this gift of peace too for all who do not know it, or who do not even believe it possible; for those whose lives are marked by despair, or fear, or grief, or pain.
When we pray together, publicly, for something we all agree on, the goodness of which the Church officially endorses, then we incidentally assert a truth of our faith, which is that prayer works; it truly makes a difference. God hears it; he answers it; he gives what we ask for: even if he does so in ways we do not immediately perceive or understand.
Today we look on, apparently helplessly, often incomprehendingly, at the situation in the Middle East, in the Ukraine, in so many parts of Africa; at our own broken society. We might think we are utterly powerless, for example, to prevent the proliferation of arms in the world; powerless to bring about a change of heart in the terrorists and suicide bombers; powerless to calm the animosities and tensions we perceive all around us; powerless to reverse the ever widening gulf between the rich and the poor. But we are not powerless. We have at our disposal, as it were, all the power that flows from the Cross of Christ; the power of the reconciling, healing, forgiving, outpoured Holy Spirit. We unite ourselves to that power when we pray. And we do that above all when we come to Mass, and communion, because here we participate directly in the saving sacrifice of Christ’s redemptive death. So coming to Mass is a most effective way of promoting peace in the world.
So is going to confession. The root of all discord, and the source of all sorrows and all injustice is sin. So our rejection of sin, our being washed clean from its polluting effects, has consequences that are in principle limitless. As our sin damages the whole body, so our receiving the forgiveness of our sins helps heal the whole body. Sacramental reconciliation also helps us to open our eyes to the reality of what sin is. It helps us realise that we must start to undertake our work for peace by fostering peace, in the first place, in our own hearts. That means: we must refuse to indulge, ever, in anger, or resentment, or contempt, or hatred. It also means we have to set aside all worry, anxiety, and sadness; also the spirit of impatience, and criticism of those around us. To do that, as we know very well, we need God’s help; we need also the virtue of humility; we need the strength that only comes through prayer.
So may the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, and Queen of peace, help us in this, and through her all powerful intercession, may the peace we pray for become a reality in our day.