Readings: Acts 2:1-11; I Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Have you noticed how fascinated we are by disaster movies? It doesn’t matter whether they are fictional, like Godzila, or historical, like Titanic. The tension, the action and the CGI entrance us, but I believe we’re caught by something deeper. In the end there are the characters who have survived and ourselves, the audience, who have survived. Like the elite in the lifeboats of the Titanic, we’re surrounded by the dead of our times.
Why us? Are we blessed or cursed to bear the torch of life when so many others have perished? Do we have some special mission to serve or is our survival pure chance?
Disaster movies are safe places to flirt with these questions: survival is triumphant. In real life, survival may leave us feeling guilty. All this impacts my understanding of peace. I was born right before the outbreak of the Korean War and I’ve never known the world to be at peace. Is peace the temporary suspension of hostilities between catastrophes?
What does Jesus mean when he says, Peace be with you? Addressing his apostles after his execution by the occupying military regime in a land always on the verge of civil war, what is he describing? Is it enough to say he refers to “inner peace”?
Perhaps you’ve met people who make a career of “inner peace”, carefully insulating themselves in meditation, a controlled environment and lots of denial–a fragile balancing act, as brittle as it is imaginary. Is peace just a lack of disturbance?
I’ve also met people who go from challenge to challenge with a certain quiet courage and trust, who generate calm, even serenity. Listen to them and they may not feel serene and confident; trust may be quite an effort–they simply live it out. They may convey peace to us. They may die courageously, whether quietly in a hospital bed or sacrificing themselves for others. That sort of peace is more a visitor than a possession; it is certainly other than a lack of conflict.
Doesn’t that dynamic resemble conversion? Facing facts, taking responsibility, changing course, trusting God’s will, submitting to a deeper wisdom…
Is that why Jesus connects peace to the forgiveness of sins? The forgiveness of sins means I own what I’ve done–and that can be disturbing, not tranquil. It means surrendering my determination to handle life and trusting the God I cannot see or hear or touch, as I can see, hear or touch you. The forgiveness of sins means that I stop judging others and, as St. Paul wrote, even judging myself. Does anything leave us human beings more jittery than abandoning our drive to judge? Isn’t judging how we make sense of life? Peace can’t be reduced to security or the absence of risk.
Receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus says. Peace is a Person, a Person who visits us. I can’t presume that a person is a part of my life; I relate to a person. If I want to receive peace, if I want to know what peace is, I must open myself to allow this relationship to grow.
Come, Holy Spirit: on our dryness pour your dew; bathe the stains of guilt away; bend the stubborn heart and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill… [From the Sequence for Pentecost]