Sunday, 22 January 2017
Religion Causes Peace, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
I want to say a few words today about why religion is a force for peace and good in the world.
As we all know, the reverse is often asserted, we are often told that religion divides and brings wars. And sadly, as we heard in our second reading today, there are real divisions: we heard St Paul berating the early Christians for the factions among them. And in different ways there are divisions among the Christians churches today, which is why we’ve been praying for unity in this annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The divisions among us are, rightly, seen as something that contradicts the very message we proclaim, and make it more difficult for us to proclaim that message with conviction. In the light of this we might recall that The Lord Jesus, on the night before He died, prayed that His Church might be one, "in order that the world might believe”(Jn 17:21).
Let me note three things, however. First, the divisions within Christianity are often exaggerated by our non-Christian critics. Yes, they are real. Yes, they are problem. But when unbelievers point to them and say things like, "Religion is the main cause of wars in human history”, they exaggerate to a point that has lost touch with the facts. Don't look at it now, but I've included in the newsletter an article summarising some statistics (that you can check further online here) that indicate that actually the vast majority, 93%, of all wars have not been about religion. http://carm.org/religion-cause-war
Second, it is religious figures more than any other that are the forces for peace and reconciliation in human history. We might think of ancient figures like St Francis of Assisi. We might note that throughout European history it is the Saints, it is the men and women of religion, of GOD, that people have turned to to resolve civil conflicts in communities. Just recently America observed Martin Luther King Day, and we might take him as one of many examples of RELIGIOUS leaders, CHRISTIAN leaders who used peaceful means to resolve discord and injustice.
Thirdly, on a deeper level, let us think about the TYPE of unity and peace that we proclaim as Christians:
The unity and peace Christians proclaim is not primarily a HUMAN unity and peace, it is rooted in something else:
It is union with God, union with the most important being that grounds everything else, that gives a peace in us that enables peace with others.
Let me take an analogy from family life. If a man argues with his wife, argues with the most important human being in his life, then there are consequences: all of his other relationships are thrown out of kilter. If he subsequently resolves his problem with his wife, resolves the problem with the most important person in his life, then all of his other relationships are able to re-acquire balance and their proper place too.
God is even more foundational to our existence than a wife is to her husband.
God is the one our very existence comes from. God is the one who gives us life and grace and strength. God is the one who teaches us how to live and behave.
Our relationship with God is the one we damage whenever we sin.
And, God is the One who, as the ground of everything, is the One who can forgive us, forgive us in a way that restores all our other relationships.
So, to bring this to a focus and conclusion, this is why, far from being a cause of division, God is the One we need to turn to, above all, to heal our divisions:
To have, as ‘little ones’ (Mt 18:3) before Him, the humility to put other people before ourselves, rather than put ourselves first -which is the source of so much human division.
To have, as little ones before Him, the detachment to let go of pet peeves and ideas and preferences that we can often most clearly recognise as small when we place them before the Almighty.
To have, as His inner gift, the love to care enough about the OTHER rather than the self that we enter into dialogue and LISTEN to the other.
Whether the divisions at issue are social, political or religious, this is why being at union with God is the heart of any lasting solution to be in union with each other --far from religion being the enemy of peace, religion is its only solid foundation.