We are afraid of the unknown. Scared when we go to the doctors and they recommend a test: Mammogram, MRI, Sonogram, CAT-scan or they like. What will the diagnoses be? Will it affect my life adversely? What would happen to my love ones? When there is a conflict in my life, how do I deal with it? What about my financial wellbeing? Have I saved enough for the raining days? What about my mortgage? Will I be able to keep up with the payments on my house, my car, my children’s education or my utilities? These questions and worries only succeed in doing one thing to us: deprive us of our inner peace and throw our life into confusion. Therefore, Christ warns us not to be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat? Or what shall we drink?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt. 6:31-34).
The readings of the 6th Sunday of Easter assure us that we are not alone in our quest for peace. Jesus’ disciples were equally worried. Christ knew that his followers would be thrown into a gamut of worries and confusion as he was about to demonstrate his love for us by accepting death on the cross. He encouraged them not to let their hearts be troubled but pleaded that they put their trust in God. After his resurrection, Christ knew he would soon go to his father. His Ascension was fast approaching, hence, he assured them of his peace and promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the first reading we read that life among early Christians was not always rosy and without problems. As Paul and Barnabas took the Gospel and the message of salvation to the Gentiles and as they embraced the faith problems began to surface. Some brothers demanded that the Gentiles should observe and obey the Jewish laws and practices - be circumcised. This caused a rift among the Apostles and the converts to the faith. To solve this problem, Paul reported to the Apostles and the first official Council of the Church was convened – the Council of Jerusalem. The Apostles trusted themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and listened to each other. “Then the whole meeting quieted down and listened while Barnabas and Paul told of the great signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12). “For the Holy Spirit and we have decided…” (verse 28).
How often do we allow ourselves to be torn apart by anxieties, indifferences, idiosyncrasies, families, ideas and a sense of Church that make us pitch a tent only on one side and feel that we are better than others? When we take a stand and fail to pursue the unity of the Church or refuse to concede our positions, are we not tearing the body of Christ apart? When we feel that we are the standard of judgement and fail to consider the good of our brothers and sisters, are we not sinning against charity and the very God we sought to serve? St. Paul admonished: “But if you bite and devour one another, take heed or you will be consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).
We will always be disappointed by the Church, parish, families and our communities. A tension-free church and society is not possible in this world but in the world of the second reading, where there will be a new heaven and new earth. How do we solve the problems and heal the divides in our lives? The Church has always found a way to call people together for a dialogue - a listening session and give the Holy Spirit room to function; to facilitate the healing and proffer solutions. Such was the case in the first reading with the Council of Jerusalem. The solution was attributed to the efforts of the participants and the Holy Spirit.
And so, Jesus promised the Apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit. He tells them not to be afraid. He gives us a counselor, a friend and an advocate who will plead on our behalf. Christ cares for us so much that he wants to spare us any angst and anxiety. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says, “but put your trust in God”. In the midst of our disappointments, pains, fear and trepidation, Christ promises us his presence. “It is I, do not be afraid” (Mt. 14:27). The Holy Spirit will always be there to steer the ship to the shore of peace and tranquility. Even when we have sinned, the Holy Spirit will be there to get us back up again. In our prayer, the Holy Spirit will be there to lend support. “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought but the Spirit himself pleads for us with unutterable groaning” (Rom. 8:26).
With the Holy Spirit comes peace. This peace is not the absence of war, “It is”, according to Baruch Spinoza, “a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice”. It is the presence of Christ working in his people, it is a life lived in God. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). The peace promised by Christ is an indicative of an indwelling of the Trinity in the life of a Christian. This is a life lived in absolute surrender to the will of God. And so, Christ said that the peace he gives is different from the peace given us by the world.
Let us pray at this Mass for the gifts of Peace and the Holy Spirit. May the Eucharist that we celebrate lead us to discover the Lord of peace. May it give us the gift of the Holy Spirit who will lead us to all truths. Let us learn to agree to disagree but still keep the unity of God’s children. May the Spirit help us to settle our differences and know that our strength is not in our failures but in our ability to get back up each time we fail. In his mighty name we pray! Amen.