Peace in Ukraine: something to be sought, achieved

By Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

The following is Bishop O’Connell’s homily for the March 31 Mass for Peace in Ukraine in Our Lady of Fatima Church, Keyport:

The word “peace” appears hundreds of times in the Bible – depending upon the version and translations consulted.  In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus greeted his disciples, wishing them “peace” three times and then only after his Death and Resurrection. “Peace be with you,” he said once he had suffered, died and rose from the dead. 

It was more than simply a greeting or a good wish, this “peace be with you.”  To the Risen Lord Jesus, “peace” was a responsibility for those who followed him, something to be sought and something to be achieved.  Through his Death and Resurrection, the Lord Jesus overcame sin and evil – that was his mission – and by doing that, he restored humanity to the state and condition God intended for his people, a state of peace.

To be “at peace” means for people to be in a “right relationship” with the Creator. Knowing God.  Loving God.  Following God. That is our “right relationship” and that “right relationship” with God influences the way we should treat one another in this world as his children.  It establishes and, in a sense, is both the sign and guarantee of our “right relationship” with one another, a sign and guarantee of peace.

Reflection upon the history of the world reveals how often that “right relationship” has been compromised, diminished, fractured, and even prevented due to the choices that people and communities and nations have made. Those choices are concessions to evil and sin: hatred, selfishness and greed, preferences for power and domination over others. They stand in opposition to God’s will. Those choices, as they steadily increase and overtake people and communities and nations, are what make war possible. As war prevails, peace becomes elusive and slips from human grasp. Evil begets evil.  War begets war. Rationalizations and justifications for war, beget more rationalizations, more excuses for the absence of peace. Injustice lives and thrives where peace does not. Human history has witnessed this dynamic too many times to count.

In these days, the world sees this dynamic at work once more, this time in Ukraine, in a story we have sadly seen before. Atrocities and destruction, carnage and death, separation of families and displacement from homes, realties that are all too familiar throughout the pages of human history.  Once again, lessons again have gone unlearned. 

The Lord Jesus knew the hardness of the human heart. He warned us in John’s Gospel, “In the world, you will have troubles.” But then he quickly offered us this invitation to hope. “Take courage, I have overcome the world.” And so, tonight, we turn to God in prayer and in hope, as we have so often before. 

On this past Friday, the Church throughout the world joined Pope Francis and placed the war-torn land of Ukraine and Russia, its aggressor, into the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace, praying for an end of war in Ukraine, praying for peace there.

The little Saint of Calcutta, Mother Theresa, once reflected, “Let us not use bombs and guns to overcome the world.  Let us use love and compassion … let us radiate peace … and extinguish in the world and in the hearts of all men, all hatred and love for power” for “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”  That is the “right relationship” – belonging to one another in Christ Jesus – that alone leads to peace. 

Listen to his voice, his words: “Peace I leave you. Peace is my gift to you but not as the world gives. So do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.” We pray tonight for peace in Ukraine.  We pray tonight for peace in our world.