Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Welcoming the Prince of Peace

December 16, 2012

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace …” The Gospel according to St. Luke puts these lyrics into the angels’ song at Jesus’ birth, and we repeat them in the Gloria at Christmas and at most Sunday Masses. The prophet Isaiah said that the Messiah would usher in a Kingdom of Peace, and Christians believe that peace is a sign of Christ’s presence.

Before he died, Jesus promised his disciples the gift of peace: “Peace I give you; my peace I leave you.” We recall these words as we make peace with our neighbor before receiving the body of the risen Christ in Holy Communion. The first words of Jesus after he rose from the dead were: “Peace be with you.”

The peace of Christ is based on forgiveness, and that might be the fundamental reason why the world still does not know peace. Countries establish “peace” through conquest of external enemies or, within our own country, through lawsuits that leave winners and losers. We bemoan neighborhood violence and domestic violence, and rightly so. Beneath external violence, however, lies internal turmoil. Laws cannot create a peaceful person out of someone who has not experienced, especially in his or her family, the love that teaches internal discipline. Without peace of soul, there can be no real peace on the streets, in our homes or among nations.

Society speaks of victims and their oppressors and settles the conflict through revenge. The church speaks of martyrs and their persecutors and settles the conflict through forgiveness. It is foolish to imagine that “justice” can be satisfied at the cost of love. It’s the difference between getting even and getting it right. Because of the incarnation of God’s eternal Word and his suffering and rising for our salvation, the gift of Christ’s peace is always available, but too often we fail to accept it. The violence done to Jesus himself is the source of the world’s peace, although it takes faith to recognize that truth.

The church celebrates Christmas 2012 during the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict recently spoke to theologians in Rome, reminding them and us that “Without opening up to the transcendent, which enables us to find answers to our questions on the meaning of life and how to live in a moral fashion, man becomes incapable of acting with justice or committing himself to peace.” Universal truth is not a source of violence; it rescues us from the cynicism that threatens our life together. Living in truth and love strengthens our interior life, especially our relationship to the Lord himself, present now in the sacramental life of the church, in the word of God and its catechetical explanation. These respond to the deepest aspirations of the human heart, including the desire for a peace that the world cannot give.

Even in a society secularizing itself rather rapidly, the celebration of Christmas reminds people of a God who is love. How can those who want to welcome Jesus as the bearer of God’s forgiveness and the creator of our peace use these days to make peace? We should make a point of reconciling ourselves with our enemies, even through small gestures. We should see if we might be able to make enemies into friends. We can suggest forgiveness at moments when others have hardened their hearts.

We can pray for the peace of the world. Scripture seems to indicate that there will be wars until Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead; but we can pray that we will not be party to warfare and work as best we can to mitigate its destructiveness. We can help in welcoming refugees, especially now the refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria. We can contribute to organizations like Catholic Relief Services, which bring humanitarian aid to war torn societies around the globe.

Christmas calls out the best in many people around the world. May the celebration of Christmas this year strengthen our faith and renew our purpose to be instruments of peace in the coming year. I am always grateful to learn of your prayers for me. This Christmas all those in the archdiocese will be in my prayers as I listen to the Gloria at Mass: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” Through the working of God’s grace, may we be counted among that people and may their number increase! A blessed Christmas!


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