Father Donald Senior, CP

Where do we find ultimate peace?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Some have claimed that the fourth-century St. Augustine has said everything there is worth saying. That is probably an exaggeration but so many of his words are memorable — perhaps none more so than this quotation from his “Confessions”: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in you.”

Augustine’s eloquent words capture the deep currents of our Scripture readings for this Sunday. There is no biblical conviction stronger than the belief that God has created us and destined us for abundant life with him. The opening chapter of the Bible — the beautiful creation story of Genesis 1 — proclaims that God created the human person, male and female, “in the image and likeness” of God (Gn 1:26-27). A second version of the creation story in Genesis 2 portrays the human as a lump of clay shaped by God into human form and quickened with life by God’s own breath (Gn 2:7).

It is this intimacy between God and humans that continuously erupts in the biblical narrative. The first reading for today from the Prophet Isaiah (49:14-15) exquisitely affirms this. When Israel feels forsaken and forgotten by God, the Lord declares, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” The following verse, not included in the Lectionary selection, ends: “See I have written your name on the palm of my hands.” Think, the prophet seems to say, of the most tender, enduring and protective love you can, the love of a mother for her infant. God’s love for his people exceeds even that.

No doubt the Responsorial Psalm 62 was chosen to amplify the same compelling refrain of God’s love as the ultimate source of our peace and well-being. “Only in God is my soul at rest”; “God only is my rock and my salvation”; “Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from him comes my hope”; “Trust in him at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before him.”

The words of Jesus in the Gospel today reflect this same deeply rooted biblical trust in God. The selection is from the concluding section of the Sermon on the Mount, the key passage of Matthew’s Gospel that has dominated the Sunday readings for the past month. Here, Jesus urges his disciples and the crowds of the sick and distressed who have come to hear him, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body what you will wear.”

God, Jesus reminds them, is the one who “feeds the birds of the sky” and “clothes the wild flowers and the grass of the field” with unmatched beauty. “If God so clothes the grass of the field … will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith.” Jesus’ words conclude: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given you besides.”

Karl Marx famously declared that “religion is the opium of the people,” in effect diverting people’s attention from the injustice that causes suffering. But this call for serene peace is not a sign of Jesus’ naiveté or indifference to the sufferings of the people around him. Many of them were poor and, of course, did worry about where their next meal would come from or how they would clothe their children. It was for these very reasons that Jesus would give all his energy to healing those who were sick and feeding the multitudes.

But here, at this moment, he calls them to a deeper realization, one based on the reality of their dignity as daughters and sons of God. Jesus invites them and us to sink beneath our tensions and anxieties and to realize, no matter what, our ultimate destiny is rest and peace with God our Father. With that realization, we are made stronger to face the everyday challenges of our life.


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