WelCom May 2019:
‘Jesus puts peace into our hearts so that in turn we can give it to others.’
Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington
In mid-April Pope Francis met at the Vatican with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Justin Welby [principal leader of the Church of England, symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury]. Together they met with South Sudanese civil and church authorities at the end of their two-day spiritual retreat in the Vatican, which had been proposed and organised by Archbishop Justin Welby. The retreat had brought together those who will lead as president and vice-president of the country following a peace accord signed last September, and Church representatives, both Catholic and Protestant leaders.
At the end of the two days Pope Francis stressed: ‘I urge you, then, to seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you.’ He then went on to say he would never get tired of repeating ‘peace is possible’.
We are living in these Easter days when we hear so many Gospel stories of the Risen Jesus appearing to people, standing in their midst and saying, ‘Peace be with you’. That is not just a liturgical greeting used at Masses and in different Church ceremonies. When Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’ he asks us to be people of peace, people who approach others with peace in our hearts, rather than grudges or thoughts of getting even when something has not gone the way we wanted. Many WelCom readers will remember the Papal Tour theme of Pope St John Paul II in 1986, when we were reminded repeatedly, as New Zealand prepared for his visit and during the days he was here, that ‘The Heart of Peace is Peace of Heart.’
Peace is Jesus’ gift to us when he stands among us and says, ‘Peace be with you’. He puts peace into our hearts so that in turn we can give it to others.
From time to time we hear inspiring stories of people who have forgiven, have gifted peace to others. Sometimes after a tragedy, a deep personal hurt, it can even be after a life has been taken – maybe by a driver who should not be driving or a senseless attack and murder. Over recent weeks there has been much publicity about the Islamic community who have not held a grudge against the gunman who senselessly and violently took so many lives in the Christchurch shootings. There have been touching stories of Muslims who have refused to give in to hate and revenge, and who have chosen to forgive and to be people of peace.
There is no point in holding on to something that is going to burn us up inside, something that is going to twist our minds and turn us into cynics and sceptics, which is going to leave us bitter and sad.
‘If we cultivate peace of heart, we will be able to be peaceful people if ever faced with anything traumatic or dramatic.’
Recently I was sent a copy of a book entitled The Poor Save Us, written by Megan McKenna who has visited Wellington a couple of times and spoken at various events. Megan is a poet, theologian, storyteller and teacher. I was very taken with one of her stories about visiting Israel and the West Bank. This story affected me deeply because of all the stories we were hearing about the shooting at the mosques in Christchurch and the acceptance and forgiveness of the Muslim community.
Megan McKenna wrote about being in a home on the West Bank, with a large family gathered around her, and as she looked at a family photograph, she tried to match faces with those in the photo. She noticed there were two faces that she hadn’t found in the group gathered around her. She innocently asked, ‘Who are these two? They’re not here tonight? Are they away with relatives or off with others?’ She wrote about how a silence descended ‘almost as thick and quickly as the shadows of night came down around us’. As she glanced up, she realised everyone was looking at her.
After a few moments, one of the children, a boy of about eight, pointing at one of the missing ones, a boy in the picture, said, ‘That’s Reuben, our big brother’, and a girl said, ‘And that’s our sister Eliza. They’re not with us anymore. They were shot by the soldiers. Abba took them to his hospital. But they’re still here. We just don’t know exactly where.’
The family then went on to talk about Reuben and Eliza. Reuben’s eyes went to a Jewish mother, and his liver and kidneys to a boy about his age, and his lungs to a little baby. And Eliza’s eyes are in a girl who went to high school in Tel Aviv, and her heart is in someone else – like her liver. The children then said ‘We know they’re on the other side of the line, looking back at us when we eat and play, and we are together. We look for them when we go out and look across through the fence or when we go to the other side. We look at everyone very closely and see if we can find them, recognise them in someone. We know we’ll know if they are there in someone, so they’re with us, still just not here right now.’
I found that to be an amazing story. A family could speak openly about how two children had been shot and killed and parts of their bodies has been gifted to people on the other side. For me that is also a story of acceptance and forgiveness, of great generosity of heart. That could only happen when people have ‘Peace of Heart’.
This is Easter, in some ways it is always Easter for us, because the Risen Jesus is always with us gifting us with his peace and expecting us to gift it to others. We do that in the routine and the mundane of our daily lives. If we cultivate peace of heart, we will be able to be peaceful people if ever faced with anything traumatic or dramatic. The challenge is also to have peace of heart days on days which can sometimes be monotonous and unexciting, or tedious and dreary.
‘Peace be with you.’