Summary: "This principle, drawn from the Gospel, reminds us that Christ has made all things one in himself: heaven and earth, God and man, time and eternity, flesh and spirit, person and society. "
Thursday after Ash Wednesday 2017
Joy of the Gospel
On this first full day of Lent after Ash Wednesday, the Lord sets before us a clear choice: Shall we choose life and goodness, or death and evil. There are no nuances here, no shades of gray. We either opt and live for God’s will, or we are His enemy, and in His enemy’s employ and slavery. It is no coincidence that the fourth commandment promises that if we honor our parents, we will have long life in the land. For they on earth take the place of our heavenly Father, and obedience to Him means we can have eternal life in His presence. In the Gospel, Our Lord spells out that obedience more starkly. Like the Son of God, we children of God will have to deny everything except our covenant with the Father, and one way or another suffer the pains of little crosses in imitation of the One who took up the Big Cross and died for our salvation. It’s a battle, a war, and we are on the winning side. But we can’t expect to end our battle without injury.
The Holy Father has been laying down principles for building a just society under God’s order, and he comes to the second principle: ‘Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality.
‘When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners; they lose their bearings, project onto institutions their own confusion and dissatisfaction and thus make unity impossible. But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9).
‘In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity. This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.
‘This principle, drawn from the Gospel, reminds us that Christ has made all things one in himself: heaven and earth, God and man, time and eternity, flesh and spirit, person and society. The sign of this unity and reconciliation of all things in him is peace. Christ “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace, and peace at all times crowns and confirms the relations between the disciples. Peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflict “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). But if we look more closely at these biblical texts, we find that the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society.
‘The message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity. It overcomes every conflict by creating a new and promising synthesis. Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a “reconciled diversity”. As the bishops of the Congo have put it: “Our ethnic diversity is our wealth… It is only in unity, through conversion of hearts and reconciliation, that we will be able to help our country to develop on all levels”.’
The Holy Father quotes a number of bishops in his encyclical. That is in keeping with the collegiality of the Church. But they are right. Only in being together can we win this battle for the hearts and souls of humankind. That is a thought to carry through this forty days.