Dear Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!
A week ago, we were together in Bethlehem, like the shepherds, to worship the Prince of Peace coming into the world. A week later, our Church is gathered here to celebrate the Virgin Mary; the Theotokos, the Mother of God. It is a title dear to the Eastern Churches, but it is also the faith of the whole Church: bowing to the mystery of the Word made Flesh and given to the world by the Virgin Mary.
Our Church, at the beginning of each new calendar year, therefore turns to the Mother of God to invoke the gift of peace, to whom this day is always dedicated.
We are used to invoking from God, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin, the gift of peace: and that is beautiful, and good. However, we must not forget that peace cannot be found if the path of our prayers does not meet the path of our choices. As we have expressed many times before, peace is the fruit of the encounter between God’s grace that comes to us, and our freely made choices. The angels’ song of peace is not so much about the Son of God coming in the flesh, as it is about the Son’s choice to come among us in humility rather than power.
The peace we invoked must thus become a choice.
As we begin a new year under the sign of peace, we are called not only to invoke and welcome a gift, but to cultivate in our hearts the desire and hope for a possible peace, and to believe that peace is not just a slogan. In other words, we are invited to choose, to design and engage for peace. It seems utopian in this land of ours, in this world that, despite declarations of principle, continues to use war as a tool for asserting dominance and power. Every day, we hear of death, of injustice, of violence. Every day, moreover, we are asked to take a stand, to call out, condemn, denounce. Yet even this, over time, becomes a ritual that is less and less followed and listened to, simply because it is, precisely, part of a ritual.
In this unwelcoming context, the first temptation is to withdraw, to stop striving for peace, which seems unattainable and distant, out of our reach. Something in which we perhaps no longer believe.
But this is not the faith and hope of the Church. We want and believe in peace, as a gift from God and as a fundamental commitment of our community and of every man and woman in this world. It is not a utopia, it is rather a prophecy.
The Church, our Church, in all her forms, is called, like never before, to be the alternative community, making the choices of the Prince of Peace her own.
Turning one’s gaze toward every human being, committing oneself to justice and peace in social and political relations, aiming for the respect and dignity of every human being, is a constitutive part of the Church’s identity. It is the immediate and direct fruit of our encounter with Christ. It is the necessary and immediate consequence of a mature faith. As we said, peace is a gift received, but which we must also freely choose to accept.
It is thus part of the Church’s vocation to plan peace, to sow peace in the confident conviction that God works with us, irrigating with His grace the furrows plowed by peacemakers.
So let us give ourselves to the works of peace.
The first work is a decisive return to the Gospel of peace: read, meditated upon, lived, translated into everyday, concrete lifestyles. The Gospel of peace is the Gospel of love, of giving, of forgiveness, of patience. In a few days, we will again celebrate the Day of the Word of God. I see it as a continuation of today’s celebration. For without a return to the Gospel, without a faith nourished by an encounter with the Word of God, our actions will remain only social activities, and consequently risk losing their capacity for a broad vision, for freedom from their own outcomes, that only a rooted faith can give. Without God’s presence, our choices remain only human, and therefore short-lived.
The second work is a determined return to the world, to reality as it is. While we need to cultivate and cherish the divine life in us, we are also called to love the world, to make present in its life the faith that sustains us. In a sense, we too are called to become a kind of “theotokos.” Just as Mary by her obedience generated Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to the world, so now it is our vocation and mission as believers to make Jesus known and generated in the life of the world, by a faith expressed through our actions for peace and justice. “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18).
It is not easy, we know. We are tempted, often, to resign ourselves to this era of violence, to injustices. We feel powerless, crushed by situations that in so many parts of the world seem too big for us and with no way out. I think, in particular, of our Holy Land, where conflict enters every day inside the life of every home, every family, every person, and leaves wounds that are not easily healed. It makes daily life a continuous struggle, leaving in the hearts of too many people feelings of humiliation, which in turn generate more and more resentment. I think of our young people, often discouraged by so many frustrated expectations, tempted by dreams of a better life elsewhere. I think of the political life of these countries of ours, increasingly distant from the real life of our people, unable to express clear visions and perspectives to its citizens.
However, the Christmas of Christ, to have faith in the incarnation, should lead us to think differently. The Prince of Peace did not love an abstract world, did not incarnate an ideal or idealized context, did not wait for a favorable time. He made the world holy and the time favorable with his coming. This is also true for us: our actions, enlightened by our faith, can make everything holy and worthy, even in the most wounded and conflict-torn realities. Life in the Holy Land will be holy and worthy not when times have changed, but when we decide to make it so. It will be our love, our commitment, our passion that will make life beautiful and worthy. Our faith must lead us to this, to transform our lives, here and now. Even if it does not change reality, it does, however, change the way we deal with it.
Finally, the third work of peace is a serious return to self. Choices arise from the human heart: perhaps we should all be reconciled with ourselves, with our expectations, with our illusions, that often risk turning into disappointments. We may have to learn, with time, to purify our expectations, which are often polluted by our pride. Unity, which we so much desire in our society, also needs our hearts to be united and reconciled. A heart that has encountered forgiveness will be able to open itself to the others with trust, without fear. There is no point in talking about peace if one’s heart is divided. We are not credible in our action for justice if our personal lives and relationships are not bright and transparent. We cannot be peacemakers if our hearts are inhabited by anger and resentment.
For believers in Christ, for the Church, designing peace requires not running away from time and the world, or inhabiting them with anger, resentment or resignation. It requires loving them, serving them - sometimes admonishing them - but nonetheless accepting them with love and patience, and instilling in them the seed of peace.
Designing peace is, after all, being in the world as Jesus was. It means spreading the way of the Incarnation, which we are celebrating, but which we are also called to generate every day in the life of the world, with patience, with love and with the confidence that this world of ours, as it is, in spite of everything, is the place where “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Ps. 85:11).
Happy New Year!