Bethany Ministries Logo

Reflections on Spirituality

Based on a Homily Given January 18, 2004
by Peter Chepaitis, OFM

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, we are family,
let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.

The song is about something we all hunger for, and something that seems so elusive and impossible. Our world seems to put us in competition with each other. If I win, you lose and if you win, I lose.

Many people see the Buffalo Bills as losers, even though they played in four super bowls in a row. I lived in the Buffalo area for ten years, and I could never understand that attitude.

On the TV show "Boston Public" recently, a girl could not accept the possibility of sharing an honor with someone else, she had to have it all to herself or she saw herself as a loser.

From time to time two Jehovah's witnesses come to my door trying to convince me that their way to God is the only way. While Sr. Anna and I were giving a confirmation retreat in Rye, NY, a 14 year old girl described Islam as a religion that inspires its followers to kill Christians. I suspect she was repeating something she heard an adult say.

With attitudes such as these, how can there be peace on earth, peace between men and women, among families, religions and nations?

In today's opening prayer, I prayed, in your name, "Father of heaven and earth ... show us the way to peace in the world."

The Spirit of God, speaking through the Scriptures and through our hearts, can show us the way to peace, if we are willing to let go of our fear of losing and our addiction to being in control.

The story of the Wedding Feast at Cana gives the Church the name for its most common marriage preparation program ["Pre-Cana"]. If we look at it with the eyes of the Spirit, the story gives us hope that peace is possible between married couples and in families. Jesus responds to his mother when she says, "they have run out of wine," by saying, "How does this concern of yours involve me?" They disagree about what to do about the situation, and she trusts him to do what God calls him to do, whether it is what she wants or not. Then she says those wonderful words to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." And what happens? He does get involved. And there is enough wine for the whole village, 150 gallons!

It's a preview of the cross and resurrection, the "hour" that Jesus is talking about when he says, "My hour has not yet come." The cross for that young couple was running out of wine, the resurrection was more wine than they knew what to do with. In John's Gospel, the miracles of Jesus are always "signs". This one is a sign of hope for all families - because it is a promise that Jesus chooses to be involved with our everyday life. He is there when we run out of wine, when we run out of energy, ideas or money, and he is present when we are celebrating our love and our relationships as brother and sister, husband and wife, parent and child.

The message of this story is that the Spirit of God is the <strong>ground</strong> your marriage grows in, the air our family relationships breathe, the water and wine we need to live and to celebrate. The story also shows us how to fight, how to disagree without hurting each other, as Jesus and his mother did: how to disagree with respect, withe honesty, with readiness to follow the guidance of a higher power and to change if necessary. I think that the way to peace is the same for religions and races.

This is the first day of the week of prayer for Christian unity, yet there are still divisions even among us who accept Christ as our Lord. St. Paul gives us a way to peace in today's second reading: "To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." Two prophets of our own time have applied that truth to the different forms of Christianity we see in the world.

Brother Roger of Taize, a member of the reformed Church who lives as a monk with Catholics and other Christians in France, writes:
Reconciliation between Christians is not in order to be stronger against anyone, but to be a ferment of reconciliation and confidence for believers and non-believers [in Christ] too. Christians would withdraw into themselves if that passion of Christ, reconciliation, did not open out to a passion for peace and reconciliation in the entire human family.

He goes on to say that each of our religious traditions is a gift to the others, and that our differences can enrich us rather than divide us. He talks about how Catholics have been enriched by the Protestant reverence for the Scripture and Protestants have been enriched by the Catholic reverence for the Eucharist.

And Pope John Paul II has written in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope:
"Could it not be that these divisions have also been a path continually leading the Church to discover the untold wealth contained in Christ's Gospel and in the redemption accomplished by Christ? Perhaps all this wealth would not have come to light otherwise."

If we were to apply the truth of those reflections not only to other Christians but to Judaism and Islam and other world religions as well, we would think and act differently from the ones who use religion as a justification for war and terror, or as a reason for condemning people because of their religious affiliation.

Tomorrow is the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., another prophet of the 20th century. He gave his life for peace among different races and cultures. The prophet Isaiah says to Israel, "The Lord delights in you and calls your land his spouse." Jesus extends this prophesy to all nations, races and cultures. Through his words and his life, He proclaims in no uncertain terms that we are all one race, the human race. We are all one family with God as our common Father.

When that truth sinks in you and I will be more willing and able to respect life from the womb to the tomb, in the poor and the rich, in those who look like us and those who are different.

What is the way to peace among different races? in our world? I saw Yolanda King this past week on the Today show. She is still living the dream her father died for. When I was at SBU in 1991, she came to speak to the students. One of them asked, "What can we do to fight racism and improve relationships among different cultures? She answered, "Do anything - but do it together, black and white, Asian and Native American. Organize parties, socialize. It does not have to be something profound."

Her words recall my friendship with Kim and Reggie Harris. Once we had become friends, I pretty much forgot that they were black. But I did make some mistakes along the way. I remember using a black sheep puppet to illustrate sin. They pointed out how I was reinforcing stereotypes that black was bad. I'm glad that I was not too afraid to make mistakes to risk reaching out to them in friendship.

I believe that the soul food and pizza I have shared with them and members of their families, as much as the missions we have preached together, have been a small part of my contribution to peace on earth. And I know that learning to see my mistakes and to disagree while remaining friends is a part of the way God brings peace to the world.

When the two Jehovah's witnesses came to my door while I was putting the final touches on this homily, I was challenged to practice what I was going to preach today. I told them that we are both convinced of the Gospel and are living it, and I said, "I respect your conviction, but I cannot live it the way you do, and I do not expect you to live it the way I do."

The song I began with is my prayer for you, for families, churches, races and nations today:
Let there be peace on earth, let this be the moment now... With every step I take let this be my solemn vow, To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.