As Jesus broke bread with his disciples at the Last Supper, he knew that everything was about to explode. Yet he gave his disciples a farewell gift of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).
Today we enter the three-day period called the Easter Triduum, which begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and ends with evening prayer on Easter. The gift of peace that Jesus gave to his disciples more than 2,000 years ago is our gift to receive and to share as 21st century disciples celebrating Easter’s message of salvation.
Sharing peace is easier said than done in a world troubled by conflict and war, displacement, barbarism, selfishness and social media meanness. The decapitation of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by the Islamic State just days before the start of Lent shocked and angered people around the globe. How many of us in a dark moment haven’t wished the barbarians would meet the same fate?
But Jesus’ message of peace echoes in the words of people like Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy. After the murders of the Coptic Christians, he sent an email to clergy suggesting prayers to be included in the Sunday intercessions: “We should commit ourselves even more fervently to dialogue and to pray for one another. Just as we pray for the Coptic Community who lost 21 of their own to such barbarism, let us also keep in prayer the American Muslim community in light of the recent murder of three young Muslims in North Carolina. Let us also not forget the Danish Jewish community in the aftermath of the shooting at the synagogue in Copenhagen. Hatred, alas, knows no boundaries.”
Because hatred knows no boundaries as many as 200,000 Syrians have died and 10 million have been displaced in the four years since the conflict in Syria began. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are fleeing for their lives, too, forced out by the brutal Islamic State (Catholics Confront Global Poverty website). These humanitarian crises demand our attention and prayers.
Because hatred knows no boundaries war and conflict continue to besiege parts of Africa. Women religious and priests in Haiti have become victims of vicious violence. In our own country we continue to struggle with racial and economic injustice and the growing animosity of our political divide. If we are to accept Jesus’ gift of peace, we need to begin by making peace within ourselves, in our families and in every exchange we have with another human being.
We are called to make gestures of peace, as Bishop Martin Amos noted in his talk at a March 24 memorial service commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Quoting St. John Paul II, the bishop said: “Gestures of peace spring from the lives of people who foster peace first of all in their own hearts … Gestures of peace create a tradition and a culture of peace.”
Bishop Amos said a peace-filled spirit needs to be nurtured; we have to put ourselves at peace so that we may better help others to be at peace.
The late Archbishop Oscar Romero set the example, fully aware it might cost him his life. During the Mass at which he was martyred March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero spoke of the spirit of giving and of sacrifice. “Let us all do what we can … because all of those longings for justice, peace and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope” (America, March 23, 2015).
Pope Francis observed in his Message for World Day of Peace (2014) that each of us must take “one step forward, a perennial exercise of empathy, of listening to the suffering and the hopes of others, even those furthest away from me, and walking the demanding path of the love which knows how to give and spend itself freely for the good of all our brothers and sisters.”
Jesus, knowing he was about to suffer the most inhumane persecution, countered violence with a farewell message of peace and walked the demanding journey of love. We hear that message of peace at Easter and at every Mass. Let us return the gift in the daily interactions of our lives.