Summary: Christ has made all things one in himself, and we must strive for unity if we are to have peace.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday 2016

Joy of the Gospel

There really is only one choice in this life. We either choose to walk in the path set down by Our Lord or we don’t. Psalm 1, which we just prayed, says it very well: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” So no scoffing, no cynical statements about the good work of others, no listening to the culture tell us what to do and what to avoid. Instead, meditate on the Law of Love all the time. Because that is what God is doing in eternity, and what He is sharing with the saints.

The conflict that inevitably arises between those who walk in the way of Christ and those who reject love, service and faith is an opportunity for us to grow. It is mightily inconvenient, but it does make us stronger when facing new trials. Recall that in Matthew, right after Peter professed faith that Jesus is the Messiah, he predicted his passion and death. Here we have Luke recording Jesus’s saying that we must face the same inevitability. We know we can’t save our life here on earth. All of us must die. But somehow we believe that, for instance, we will avoid conflict or leave this life with a good reputation. There’s no guarantee of that, and it is actually a badge of Christian honor to die with the disapproval of the secular world.

The Holy Father continues his thoughts on peace with a new theme: “Unity prevails over conflict”: ‘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”.’

I’m not wild about the Pope’s use of Hegelian terms like “synthesis” here, but I do believe that there is a worldwide desire for unity in the face of our many problems. We cannot hope even on a national level to have total consensus. But among Catholics, we should have a hope for, and pray for, a sacramental and confessional unity that enables us to preach the Gospel of joy more effectively to a world that is in desperate need of what and whom we can share.

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