How many of us here can claim that we have deep peace in our hearts? We all know that we cannot give to others what we do not have. Therefore, if the peace in our hearts is not deep or if we live a restless life, then we can be sure that we are not as life-giving to others as God Wills of us. In all probability, we will also not be effective instruments of peace and unity to others – whether in our homes, at our office, in our parish family or amongst others whom we relate to.
One of the reasons why we do not have the deep peace we long to have in our lives could be the lifestyle we lead every day. We do many things every day; we strive for success and we try to cope with the stresses in our lives. But, the quality of our daily living depends more on how deep and meaningful, not how busy our lives are.
Fr Henry Nouwen, a widely acclaimed author, educator and Catholic priest, tells us how he came to a deeper understanding of peace in his life. In the 1980s, after having lived and taught at Harvard University; he then moved to live in a community near Toronto called “Daybreak.” This community is made up of six mentally handicapped individuals and four others whom we could say, were not seeking to live by the Beatitudes of Jesus.
In this community, we have Adam who has the greatest impact on Fr Nouwen. Adam is a 25 year old man who cannot speak, cannot dress or undress himself, cannot walk alone, cannot eat without much help. He does not cry or laugh . . . he suffers from epilepsy and, despite heavy medication, he frequently has grand mal seizures.
To many people, Adam is a virtual “vegetable,” but not to Fr Nouwen who says, “As my fears (of Adam) gradually lessened, a love emerged in me, so full of tender affection that most of my other tasks seemed boring and superficial compared with the hours spent with Adam. Out of his broken body and broken mind emerged a most beautiful human being offering me a greater gift than I could ever offer him.”
Adam gave me the peace – a peace rooted in being.” This “peace” that Adam gave me could not be found in the prestigious career that I had; one that is so marked by rivalry and competition, so pervaded with compulsion and obsession, so pervaded with suspicion, jealousy, resentment and revenge. But, with Adam, I discovered that there is more to life . . . Adam’s peace, while rooted more in being and accepting himself as he is rather than in doing, and more in the heart than in the mind, is a peace that calls forth community . . . Adam in his total vulnerability calls us together as a family.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Fr Nouwen, was lured into a deeper meaning of his life through Adam, a severely handicapped person. In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims to us that He wants to give us His Peace; a “Peace” that the world cannot give. Do we want this divine “Peace” from Jesus?
Before we can be receptive to the “Peace” of Jesus, like Fr Nouwen, we are each challenged today to allow Jesus to change our perceptions of life. Unless we begin to have positive and more Christ-like perspectives in our lives, we will not be receptive to the “Peace” that Jesus wants to give us. And, if we do not have the “Peace” of Christ in our hearts, then we will never be life-giving and peace-loving persons.
There is a story of a farmer who divided is property equally between both is sons: Jude and John. Both sons had to work very hard on the farm. Every day was a great trial for Jude. He was never happy with his farm; his brother’s wheat seems to be taller and healthier than his, and he is filled with the anxieties as he has the impression that his brother is laughing at him. His anxieties grew into envy, resentment and anger towards his brother John.
John on the other hand, was joyous in his daily toil. He was very grateful that his father had given him such a beautiful piece of land that is filled with the beauty of butterflies, the chirping of birds and the fragrant of the wild flowers surrounding his field. He was also happy to see that his brother’s field was doing well.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, like Jude and John who inherited their fields from their generous father, all of us here are likewise filled with abundant blessings from God in different ways. While many of you are millionaires, I don’t have a single cent or property to my name because of the religious vow of poverty that I have professed, while you have the blessings of children who will care for you in your old age, I have no experience of what it is like to be a spouse or parent, while maids and migrant workers long to live in houses and have bank accounts that are stable and secure, yet, we are all blessed by God in different ways and situations of our lives. Like John in our story, our focus in life should be to live with gratitude in our hearts for the abundant blessings that God has given to each of us.
But, if we are like Jude in our story, and if we are constantly unhappy with what graces and blessings God has given to others, then we will never be receptive to the blessings and “Peace” that God has given to us.
Let us also learn from Fr Nouwen’s experiences that God’s gifts of His “Peace” and blessings to us can come to us in the most unexpected situations of our lives. For Fr Nouwen, he found the true peace of Jesus in the community of the handicapped with whom he lived, and not in the great halls and lecture theatres of a prestigious university in which he worked. The divine “Peace” of Jesus that transformed Fr Nouwen primarily came through the broken body and broken mind of Adam who could not feed himself or dress or talk or cry.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “Peace I bequeath to you, My own Peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give you; this is My gift to you . . .” Do we want this peace? Do we want to share this peace?
(Homily story adapted from, Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, year C, Flor McCarthy, S.D.B., Dominican publications: 1994; pp 89-90.)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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