Mass for Peace: Homily of Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl

July 23, 2006

Mass for Peace in the Middle East
July 23, 2006

Homily Text
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Washington, DC

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has called us all to prayer. He has asked the Church throughout the world to come together in prayer for peace and a cessation to the violence in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon.

In a statement issued by the Holy See Press Office, we are informed that:

“The Holy Father is following with great concern the destinies of all the peoples involved and has proclaimed this Sunday, July 23, as a special day of prayer and penance, inviting the pastors and faithful of all the particular Churches, and all believers of the world, to implore from God the precious gift of peace.”

In answer to that call for prayer, we come together in this Basilica and around the altars throughout the Archdiocese of Washington to ask for God’s grace and peace.

This is not the first time that we have done this. There is an uncomfortable sense of repetition to our prayer for peace in the Middle East. The situation in that part of the world reflects a tension that goes back for so many decades, not to say centuries. Some writers and commentators today refer to this “historic” unrest in the Middle East.

Yet today there is a new dimension and an alarming aspect to what we face. The stakes increasingly become higher as the violence mounts in the Middle East, and particularly as it is focused now on Lebanon.

As the violence becomes more destructive and as the range of the violence grows, so too do the implications of wider involvement. Today we can all be justifiably alarmed that the violence so visible in Lebanon and Israel is qualitatively different from just a year ago because of the introduction of a new level of weaponry and the wider range of destruction and the frightening implications of widening involvement of other nations.

The Pope asked us to pray — to come together in supplication to God: “In particular, the Supreme Pontiff hopes that prayers will be raised to the Lord for an immediate cease-fire between the sides, for humanitarian corridors to be opened in order to bring help to the suffering peoples, and for reasonable and responsible negotiations to begin to put an end to objective situations of injustice that exist in that region.”

What the Holy Father is asking us to pray for is also in the statement the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out on July 18, calling for all of these actions.

What can we accomplish? What do we bring to this moment?

Just last Tuesday, Cardinal Sfeir, Patriarch of the Maronite Church and the leader of the Christian faith community in Lebanon, was in Washington to pray for peace. We joined him at Our Lady of Lebanon Church to do the one thing that we as Catholics can do. We came together to show our support in solidarity — in communion — with those who suffer. We came together also to pray: to pray for our sisters and brothers in Lebanon, and to pray that God’s grace would touch the hearts of all of those who have the power to bring an end to the suffering, the violence, the division and the hatred.

We gather today to be united one with each other, but also to recognize that we are one because we are one with God. Deep down in the heart of each of us is the realization that we do not stand alone. Our prayers today are to bridge that gap between those in the Middle East who suffer and ourselves. We are one with them in aspirations for peace. With our Christian sisters and brothers, we are one in faith. With all, we are one in our humanity.

Never is the fact that we do not stand alone more keenly felt than when we face tragedy and violence seemingly beyond our control. Even when we do not have answers to so many of the questions surrounding violence, we know ultimately we must find our light, comprehension, strength, sustenance and wisdom from God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that we are to pray. He offers his followers the example of stepping aside from all of the activities of life and simply praying, because he saw so many around him as sheep without a shepherd.

As the good shepherd, Jesus offers us a pathway through life that will bring us even through the “valley of darkness.” But first we must place our faith and trust in him. We must also place our hope in his way — which includes the power of God’s Spirit to change human hearts.

For two thousand years, the ultimate lesson of Jesus was, and remains, the cross as an example not only of self-giving love for others but the answer to the most profound human questions: How shall I live? What values should guide my steps and actions? Will God be with me in response to my prayers?

Yet two millennia later, his voice continues to exert the strongest force for good in the world. “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Have courage. I have overcome the world.” “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.”

It is only in the shadow of the cross that we can begin to see Christ’s plan, the power of God’s spirit, the efficacy of God’s grace.

Who would have thought that the violence that brought Jesus to the cross would have ultimately yielded to the ineffable experience of God’s grace. This is where we enter the picture in the global scene of violence, of despair and of a breakdown in human solidarity.

Our part and why we are here today and why we have responded to the Pope’s summons to join in prayer is because we believe in the power of God’s grace and in the power of prayer to touch human hearts.

At the core of our identity is the experience of resurrection and, therefore, the belief that God’s power transcends anything this world experiences. We are called to new life, to a new creation, to a new way of being and thinking. We are also aware that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all who believe in the power to change hearts and through prayer to bring about a new creation.

A second aspect of our contribution today is our witness to hope. We must never let ourselves, our vision of life, our understanding of the ultimate goodness of the human family, be overwhelmed by momentary violence, by sporadic hatred and by the encroachment of the power of darkness.

We must be firm in our resolve to stand by our principles, to live by our convictions and to follow Jesus’s teaching. We must never allow evil or hatred to overwhelm us. The Church holds up Jesus’s example of prayer: let goodness win out over evil; let truth overcome falsehood; let life triumph over death; let love be victorious over hatred.

His message continues to echo in our day. We are not powerless in the face of evil. We are not powerless in face of violence. We are not powerless in the face of all that divides us.

The quiet, persistent voice of God’s love for us speaks of our human solidarity and the possibility of building a world, a truly good and just society that rests on mutual respect and peace. This is the proclamation that has been repeated over and over and over again from the days of the Apostles down to those of us gathered here.

Let us renew our resolve — every member of this community — to do our part no matter how small it may seem or how insignificant it might appear to build a civilization of love so that we are never overwhelmed by a culture of violence, a culture of death. Can this be done?

Yes, we can win in the struggle to let God’s kingdom of truth, justice, understanding, compassion, kindness and love win out here and around the world. It begins with each one of us.

That is why the Pope asks us to come together in prayer. Our prayers can result in God’s grace, touching hearts. If we touch enough hearts, we can influence enough actions. If enough actions change, we can change the world in which we live.

Is what we are doing today truly significant? Is our prayer today going to make a difference? Can we be a part spiritually of the vast effort to lift up the need for dialogue? The need for reconciliation? The need for peaceful solutions to intractable problems?

Of course we can. That is why we are here to stand before God who will always stand with us and respond to our prayers.

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Susan Gibbs
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