Peace begins in our hearts!

Fr. Eduardo Emilio Aguero, scj

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The war that just unleashed in the Middle East on October 7 looms on the whole world with fears of destruction and death. The land that was graced with the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the whole of humanity, continues to be a land of violence and revenge. Women, children, elderly, thousands of innocent families are torn apart by terrorism and bombs falling on their homes. The cry of the psalmist is also the cry of the pilgrims in the book of Revelation: “How long Lord!” (Ps 13:1; Rev 6:10).

How to reconcile the Word of God we hear this Sunday with our stark and hard reality? This Sunday, the Lord Jesus brings us to the heart of the Holy Scriptures, which is love: Love of God, and love of neighbor. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus had taught us that the concept of “neighbor” is not centered on ourselves but on those in need of our help. I should “become a neighbor” to those who need my hand. Is this an ideal too high for us to reach or too abstract and distant from our reality?

Let’s go step by step.

First of all, let’s not be so foolish as to blame God for all this violence and injustice that is going on, not only in the Holy Land but also in Ukraine and many other regions of the world. This is a very easy way of “kicking the ball to the corner” or projecting our fault onto others. We know very well that wars stem from our hearts as Our Lady had told the little shepherds of Fatima. The Pharisees were afraid of Jesus, just because He was telling the truth.  A truth they themselves were not willing nor ready to accept: He was the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh. That’s why they were just looking for a way of getting him killed. After Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they planned to trick him up by way of one of their best-trained scholars, a doctor of the Law. This expert in the Hebrew Scriptures posed him with a question that caused both the Pharisees and the Sadducees unending discussions: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”.  We all know Jesus’ answer, but to understand this commandment of love of God and neighbor, we need to see how it starts in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Listen Israel! …” Jesus omits this part because he sees clearly that his opponents had closed their ears to God’s Word. He Himself is the very Word of God whom they are rejecting!

Our love of God (for God) can’t begin in us. Indeed as St. John told us: “Love consists in this, not that we loved God, but that He loved us first and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10), and as St. Paul puts it: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8).

It is not us who first enter into God’s Kingdom, it is God’s love who enters into our hearts…if we allow Him. Yes, God’s kingdom is not a noun, but a verb! It is God’s power, a dynamism that re-creates us, renews us, and transforms us. It is only then, when we know ourselves in his love and mercy that we can begin to love God.

This is the second movement: Our love for God is a response to His love, we are able to love because Jesus loved us till the end: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (Jn 15:9-10).

Once we enter into that flow of pure and ardent love that is the Blessed Trinity, we are able to love our neighbor, not just as we love ourselves, but as Christ loved us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13).

So, God loved us first, then we are able to know ourselves in his light and come to be in touch with God’s infinite compassion. As St. Catherine of Siena tells us, “Knowledge precedes love”. It is experiencing God’s crazy love for me that I can be as passionate as St. Paul to go out and share this love with others.

That’s why, peace is attained first in our own hearts. A Russian monk of the 18th Century, St. Seraphim of Sarov said “Keep the peace in your heart and a multitude will be saved around you.” He is not talking of the peace of “transcendental meditation” nor of the result of some relaxation techniques. No! To arrive at this peace we need to do violence to ourselves, to our selfishness, to our ego-centeredness, to our individualism, to our desire to manipulate life without listening to God, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees!

It is only then, that the third step can happen when our compass changes from our self-centeredness to a dynamic movement towards the persons wounded at the side of the road, like the good Samaritan.

We have these kind of people living with us in Macau! I admire the Sisters of St. Anne who, quietly and without being noticed, serve the old ladies at the Asilo Santa Maria daily. During the time of Covid, many of their personnel got sick and did not report for work. They did all the work of feeding, bathing, and tending to the old ladies. That time they lost a 106-year-old lady they loved so dearly, 謝素貞

Che Sou Cheng. When Covid was over, they asked me to celebrate the mass for that holy woman. I remember also the generosity of many in our community who helped our domestic workers who were in dear need of food and shelter. Peace also begins in our hearts!

Everything good we do for the sake of Christ gives us the presence of the Holy Spirit, but prayer, which is always within our reach, is a privileged way of helping others in need. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, both Palestinians and Israelis.

(Image: Gennaro Leonardi@Pixabay)