Homily for New Year 2020
January 1, 2020
Most Reverend Excellencies,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace!
This year, as with the previous year, I take the liberty of not commenting on the Word of God just proclaimed, but rather to reflect with you on the meaning of this day; a day has been dedicated to praying for Peace for the past 50 years.
The foresight of Pope Paul VI is still very timely. Significantly, the Day for Peace is entrusted to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, whose divine motherhood we are celebrating today. As in every family, so also in the Church, we need to entrust to our Mother this unique, fascinating and irreplaceable role of mediation, intercession, and custody of our truest and deepest desires. And the first of these is peace.
The message of the Holy Father this year is particularly meaningful for us: “Peace as a path of hope: dialogue, reconciliation, and ecological conversion.”
Frankly, we must admit that these are words are quite distant from our current experience here, in the Holy Land. Indeed, it seems that for a long time there has been no real dialogue, except in small albeit significant institutions, in limited circles, but certainly not between the authorities, be they political or religious or at a general level. Furthermore, the word ‘reconciliation’ is almost taboo here. How can we speak of reconciliation – it is said – as long as this situation of injustice exists in our land?
Finally, ecological conversion: we do not even understand what this is. It is a topic of capital importance and of a global dimension, but it is discussed almost exclusively in rich countries, certainly not in ours.
Are we therefore hopeless? Of course not. The first part of the title of the message speaks precisely of a “path of hope.” We can, therefore, say that we want to place ourselves there, on that path of hope, which is the vocation proper to our Church, and which must lead us to peace.
It is not possible to comment on the whole document, so I thought of concentrating on one of the themes of Pope Francis’ message, which is dialogue.
I am sure that for many of us, this word has become annoying. It is annoying because, on the one hand, we see it regularly used in our public and private speeches; but on the other hand, we see that the reality is opposite of what we say. Apparently there is not much dialogue between us. This is not only in the political sphere but also between the various sectors that make up our societies, for example at work, among members of the different religious faiths, within our families, in our religious and parish communities ….
Within our ecclesial contexts, we see that our parish priests must intervene more and more to mediate within our families. Our ecclesiastical courts are trying to create structures to support dialogue for families, to enable dialogue with each other before asking for official separation. Let us not talk about the problems in religious communities. Dialogue has become somewhat synonymous with an amicable but unrealistic attitude. In short, this word is essential to our relationships at all levels. We say it, but it seems that we do not know how to do it very well.
Dialogue, however, is essential for any prospect of peace. Peace, at the same time, is the fruit of dialogue. But it is also its prerequisite: a true and sincere dialogue leads to peace in relationships; nevertheless, in order to have a serious dialogue, it is necessary to have a desire for peace and encounter.
The Church has made dialogue the main axis of her proclamations, especially since Vatican II and with the encyclical of Pope Paul VI Ecclesiam Suam, which focuses almost exclusively on this theme. Paul VI proposed that revelation begins with a dialogue between God and men and this relationship then becomes constitutive of the Church, which in turn “becomes dialogue” (ES 67). For Pope Paul VI, dialogue must be done with clarity and gentleness. Those were times full of hope and great optimism.
More than fifty years later, we must deal with the many failures that forces us to look at this issue with greater disenchantment than the saintly Pope Paul VI.
In general, we observe that since then, conflicts have increased rather than decreased; an individualistic mentality has become increasingly widespread, which highlights personal and individual interests with disregard for the sense of community. At a social level, we can speak more of negotiation rather than dialogue, that is, defense of specific interests, of contractual agreements, and less of attitudes of mutual trust. Families and social cohesion, in general, have become more fragile; the nostalgia for identity against religious and cultural pluralism increases, and, more generally, against the complexities of our societies. Religions are perceived as opposing factors to co-existence and as fomenters of violence. Instead of trying to resolve issues by listening to each other, we appeal to the powerful authorities, who solve the problems on our behalf, saving us the trouble of engaging together.
In our local context, we must deal with the failures of the many talks on possible peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, with the failure of the agreements already reached, with continuous violence. We must deal with general mistrust for possible new perspectives, for the desire for peace, for possible change. In short, we talk about dialogue and peace when foreigners come, and at the various conferences organized from abroad, but we know in our hearts that the reality here is very different and that dialogue is far from our reality.
So, what can we do? Is everything lost? Are we without hope? Of course not! It would be a serious lack of faith to yield to this defeatist and resigned attitude. Dialogue is above all a spiritual attitude and indicates the ability to go out of oneself in order to carefully listen to the interests and expectations of others. The believer builds his life on a relationship, on a dialogue that nourishes him daily. Faith is a dialogue with God, it is an encounter with Him. Let us not delude ourselves: if we do not know how to talk with each other, then we do not even know how to talk with God. How can we dialogue with God and not be able to dialogue with others? The believer must be capable of integrating within himself, creating unity between what he believes and what he lives. It is a continuous effort, but one which constitutes the life of faith.
Adhering to the Christian faith, therefore, does not automatically make us capable of dialogue and experts of peace. We are all called to make this personal and communal journey, this spiritual struggle, which leads us to encounter the other.
I often meet individuals who live by this desire for dialogue and peace, who spend their whole lives for this purpose. They create many initiatives, organizations and relationships. They are self-sacrificing people and are completely dedicated to building relationships. I believe that all of us here have at least once in our lifetime, met people or organizations with this purpose here in the Holy Land. All these are results of someone who wanted to be involved.
Despite on a personal level, we frequently meet people of faith, reconciled and full of life and therefore constructors of dialogue, it is more difficult to meet ecclesial communities that express this same desire.
And I am thinking particularly of our ecclesial community in the Holy Land and of our Church. We are not called to witness our desire for dialogue only as individual believers. As we said at the beginning, it must primarily be a testimony of the entire Church understood as a community and not as an institution. This is the primary vocation of our Church in the Holy Land. How does this materialize here and now, in our context?
How, in the context of distrust, suspicion, fear of each other, can our Church announce dialogue and peace seriously and credibly, without it being empty talk? What are the ways in which to witness to our Christian values? Allow me here to highlight some possible paths.
1) Recognize the reality
Firstly, we are invited to accept the reality in which we live with its specifics, its struggles, its conflicts. Imagine being the Church in the Holy Land avoiding or fleeing conflicts or trying to resolve them with non-Gospel methods. Perhaps this would preserve our structures, but it would not nourish the faith and hope of our Christians.
Recognizing our difficult reality of life, by making sure that people are listened in their pain, is therefore the first step for a meaningful community witness.
2) Vocation and prophecy
The starting point of our pastoral strategies must start not so much from the situation of our Churches and communities that at times we cannot but be worried, but from the vocation that our Churches have in this difficult context. This vocation consists in focusing more on beautiful and constructive dynamics of life within and outside our communities; to reject the temptations of flight and resignation; to avoid easy compromises by use of might or violent responses.
Our mission in these lands, despite the difficulties we experience, but lived in the free and generous gift of ourselves, is our concrete way in doing as the Lord has done so that there may be a resurrection for us and our Church. We will be an “interesting” Church insofar as prophecy is our daily witness. That means we will continue to affirm the way of the Gospel as the only possible way leading to peace in a social and political context where oppression, closure, and violence seem the only possible ways.
Building peace then means persevering in faith and intercession. Praying is the first means as a Church to stand “between” people and God, involved and sharing in their cries and pleas, and, at the same time, with eyes and hearts turned to heaven. It is a liturgy and prayer that are not only the preservation and re-presentation of rites, but which are open to the hopes and anxieties of many brothers and sisters. It is the first service that we are called to offer as a Church. Intensifying prayer, creating occasions like this today and like many experiences in our communities, is to give back space to God amid violence and despair. It is maintaining an openness to words and gestures that come from above, full of beauty and love. It is to build bonds of faith and humanity wherever constant disputes tear apart and destroy every relationship and connection.
This second service of the Church is similar to the first: to actively share the struggles and sufferings of the victims, the weak and the poor, with a lively and intelligent charity that testifies to a different possibility of being in the world.
5) Ecumenical dialogue
In a context marked by wounds and disparities, the Church can become a place and experience of a possible peace. If we have little opportunity to intervene in political conflicts or to sit at international conferences, we have however all the possibilities, and the duty, to construct reconciled and hospitable communities, open and available to an encounter; authentic spaces of shared fraternity and sincere dialogue.
Every day, the Church must oppose the strategy of opposition and confrontation with the art of encounter and dialogue, not as an opportunistic tactic or as a mere survival strategy, but because engaging in dialogue is a constitutive element of God’s relationship with men and women, and individuals among themselves.
6) (Parrhesia) – Freedom of Expression
Sent, therefore, to be witnesses, we finally have the duty to announce, through life but also through words, the Gospel of justice and peace that has been given to us. Our being in the world cannot remain in devotional introversion, nor can it be limited only to the service of charity for the poorest, but it is also freedom of expression, that is, it cannot exempt itself from expressing a judgment on the world and on its dynamics, in a manner proper to the Church, (cf. Jn 16:8.11). Our faithful expect from us a word of hope, of consolation, but also of truth. One cannot be silent in the face of injustice or invite Christians to quiet living and disengagement. The preferential option for the poor and weak, however, does not make the Church a political party. The Church loves and serves the polis and shares with the civil authorities concern and action for the common good, in the general interest of all and especially the poor, always raising her voice to defend the rights of God and man, but it does not enter into the dynamics of competition and division. Here, a very difficult and continuous discernment on what and how to speak is required.
To those who asked Him the reason for the blind and arbitrary violence of His time, the Lord responded by inviting to conversion, since in every situation we are given to live, there is an appeal of God to our life (cf. Lk 13:1-9). The current painful situation must be lived without excessive fears. Rather, it is the opportunity that is offered to us to bear witness to love for Christ and for our brothers and sisters: a serious love that is gratuitous, generous and painful.
May the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, help us, also in this New Year, to give witness to the love that has conquered our hearts.
Happy New Year to all!
+ Pierbattista Pizzaballa