Homily Mary Mother of God 2024
Mass for Peace
Latin Patriarchate, January 1, 2024
Most Reverend Eminence,
Your Excellencies, Most Reverend Fathers,
Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
may the Lord give you peace!
I usually begin my homilies and speeches with this greeting, which now seems more like a formality, something that is said without much thought, and perhaps even without much belief. Yet, that greeting says a great truth, that peace comes from Him, from the Lord Jesus, that it is an expression of His goodness. This is neither the time nor the place to enter into judgments and evaluations of the situation we are experiencing. We have already heard enough of them. They will not change the course of events and leave us as before. Here, today, we must and will turn our gaze to Christ and draw from Him the strength we need to intensify our trust, wounded by so much pain.
Christ is our peace. We know it and we believe it. And we believe that with Christmas a new way of experiencing human life has begun. We tell ourselves this all the time, these days. Yet, what we are experiencing seems to tell us that what we believe and affirm is far from what we actually experience. As I have already repeated perhaps too many times, everything today speaks of division, hatred, resentment, mistrust.
We must recognize it, war and its context, is unfortunately the natural environment of the human. Since Cain and Abel, man has never been free from feelings of jealousy, fear, anxiety for power, revenge, and possession. War, whether personal or public, is what gives expression to those negative feelings, to the inability to resolve conflicts without necessarily prevaricating, without violence. From the beginning of history, until today, in short, man is faced with the free and responsible decision of how to relate to the other, how and on what to build his existence. And often, let us recognize, at the center of one's existence is not God's law. Without God or, worse, when God is used to justify power choices of any kind, the world is easily at the mercy of those who want to divide and destroy.
But if it is true that the human heart is inclined to evil and violence, it is also true, however, that there also subsists in it a desire for peace and life, which is also waiting to find expression.
Christ's birth did not erase evil, but it gave expression and made visible once and for all that desire for peace and life that subsists in our heart and in the heart of every man. St. Bernard, in one of his discourses, which we read a few days ago, says: “Until when do you say, Peace, peace, and peace there is not? But now ... the testimony of God has become fully credible (cf. Ps. 92:5). Here is peace: not promised, but sent; not deferred, but given; not prophesied, but present”.
Jesus did not solve any of the social and political problems of his time, but he did reveal a way, which is still the way forward for those who want to build contexts of peace, even here, today, in the troubled and conflict-ridden Middle East: encounter. Promote, seek, build, cherish the desire for encounter. After all, if we think about it, it means living the Gospel seriously, and taking it as a fundamental criterion for life choices.
The serious desire for encounter necessarily involves giving trust, accepting to make room for another voice as well as one's own. It also not infrequently requires giving up or setting aside something of one’s own, a vision, an opinion, an expectation....
In these our contexts of near-permanent conflict, where religion, politics, and national identity constantly intermingle, thus creating an almost inextricable quagmire, coming together requires courage and a sort of ‘madness’. For from generation to generation, different and opposing narratives fuel mutual suspicion and distrust among the inhabitants of this Land and cultivate in the consciousness of so many the spirit of conquest, violence, and contempt for those who are different from themselves. These are narratives that pollute the hearts of so many, who because of all this struggle to understand every possible proposal for encounter, and increasingly confuse peace with victory. It is a misunderstanding that recurs often, perhaps not only in the Middle East.
Peace, then, the real peace, the peace built on a sincere desire for encounter, welcome and fraternity, necessarily also requires a path of conversion. It involves first of all changing one’s way of thinking, freeing one’s heart from the spirit of violence, conquest and revenge. We all need conversion, to purify our way of looking at the events of life, to build contexts of beauty. There is no peace without conversion. We cannot live and speak of peace if our hearts are not turned to God, if our lives are not truly inhabited by his presence, if we do not feel the need to ask, day after day, for his forgiveness. If we are not capable of gestures of tenderness and trust.
Peace also demands that we make truth in our relationships, that we come to acknowledge the evil done and suffered, which is never easy and is always painful. Doing the truth, taking responsibility for the evils and wrongs suffered or sometimes committed, is never taken for granted and requires great courage and sincere love. Truth, however, becomes complete when it also meets forgiveness. They are necessary to each other. A truth that is not illuminated by the desire for forgiveness is in danger of becoming recrimination, an occasion for confrontation and loneliness.
Man alone is unable to live at this height, unable to rise to this pattern of life. It is a grace, it is a gift, which we receive from above. For “unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3) That is why we are here today, to ask for the grace of this gift, to ask God to enable us this gaze, not to abandon ourselves to our fears, at the mercy of thoughts of death and its stings (1 Cor15:55).
I am more and more convinced that in this complex context, the main vocation and mission of the small Christian community is precisely this: to cherish the desire for encounter, to cultivate freedom in relation to all, to overcome ethnic, religious and identity boundaries of various kinds that, while not written down, are nevertheless rigidly written in the consciousness of these our peoples. It is not a matter of erasing their belongings, which are, on the contrary, good and necessary, a solid foundation on which to build common life. But not to make them merely impenetrable fortresses, inaccessible fortifications, garrisons to be defended.
There are many men and women of all faiths who are still capable of this witness today, even here in this difficult land. But we also need the witness of a community, one that knows how to live, internally first and foremost, and in open and shared contexts, this freedom. And our small Christian community could make this difference. It is my dream, and it is the madness that I would like to share with all this small and beloved church in Jerusalem.
In fact, as I have said elsewhere, the Christian difference, in fact, does not lie in our strength, our possessions, our eventual prestige. The Christian difference lies in our choices of reconciliation, of dialogue, of service, of closeness, of peace. For us, the other is not a rival; he is a brother. For us, Christian identity is not a fortification to be defended, but a hospitable home and an open door to the mystery of God and man where all are welcome. We, with Christ, are for all.
Let us ask the Virgin, Mother of God and our mother, to invoke upon us her motherly gaze, the tenderness we all need so much, and make us, for this new year that is beginning, credible protagonists of our desire for peace for this our Holy Land.