Homily for December 31, 2016. New Year Vigil Mass.
Bible Study: Numbers 6:22-27. Galatians 4:4-7 and Luke 2:16-21.
Our first reading tonight sounds more like a prayer than an admonition. Indeed it is a formula of blessing which God himself gave to Moses. There is one aspect of the prayer that forms the bedrock of our reflection this evening. It says: May the Lord lift his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Peace. Yes, Peace. What is Peace? And how can the world today find peace?
In his message for the 2017 world day of Peace, Pope Francis shares some of his ideas on the topic of peace. In the beginning, he noted that the foundation for all peace is the recognition that every human being is a sacred gift, endowed with great dignity and made in the image and likeness of God. Once you see your fellow human being in this light, you wouldn’t want to harm, hurt or be violent towards him or her no matter what he or she may have done to you.
This very night, I want us to carry out a little exercise. Think about all those who offended you in this year 2016, picture in your mind all the violence, hatred, injustice and pain you suffered from people. Now, the question I sincerely want to ask you is: What are you planning to do with all these people whose names and faces you now picture? Do you intend to carry the pains and hurts into the New Year? Pope Francis says: “When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking.” This means peace begins with those who are already victims of violence. I am sure there is no one here who has not been hurt before. We all are victims. But we have a choice either to become promoters of peace by entering 2017 in a clean state or carry the smells and dirt of 2016 along with us.
But today, I encourage you to choose peace instead. Since 2016 will never come again, since this year will die forever tonight, let us decide to allow the hurts and pains of 2016 to die with it. This is a night of crossing over, if we don’t get to forgive and let go, if we still plan to recall the past and retaliate, then it means we are not fully crossing over. Why is Peace necessary? Pope Francis recalling the words of Pope Paul VI fifty years ago in the first world day of peace message stated: “Peace is the only direction of human progress…” Do you want to be blessed in life? Do you want to be successful and achieve your dreams of a greater future, then Peace is absolutely necessary.
There is no progress when there is no peace. When we look at our world today, listen to news headlines, we cannot but notice that the world as a whole is “engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal.” This has brought about great suffering all over the world. We hear of terrorism, organised crime, abuses of migrants, human trafficking, devastation of the environment and so on all because the world has refused to follow the path of nonviolence and embrace peace instead. The question Pope Francis asks is “Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value?” Nothing! Violence has never and will never produce anything good instead it will only lead to more suffering, forceful migrations of people from their homelands, death (both physical and spiritual death) of many if not of all.
One great man once defined anger as “the punishment we inflict on ourselves because of the mistakes of others.” In war, there is never a winner. Every battle is an endless cycle of attack, retaliation, counter attack and further retaliation. It never ends. Picture those who have hurt you and wish them good, drop your plans of doing evil to them. Realize that there is no amount of retaliation that will compensate for the harm they have done because it will only bring you more pain and injury. Even Jesus acknowledges that both war and peace begin from the heart.
Conquer that voice that keeps crying out for violence deep inside you, allow Jesus speak to your heart as you reflect on Jesus’ own life and words. In Matthew 5,44 Jesus said: “Love your enemies.” When someone slaps you, “turn the other cheek.” In John 8, 1 to 11 Jesus refused to allow the crowd stone the woman caught in adultery to death. Jesus would never consent to jungle justice as is now rampart in Nigeria today. For instance when a small boy of 7 stole garri, he was stoned and burnt to death. Has this violent treatment stopped stealing in Nigeria? Dear friends violence no matter how attractive it may seem cannot achieve anything. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter brought out his sword to begin a war, he slew the ear of Malchus and would have cut off someone’s head but Jesus stopped him. He replaced the ear and asked Peter to put back his weapon. Jesus not only preached Peace. He practiced it to the end.
We must be people of Peace because as Pope Benedict XVI said, there is already too much violence, too much injustice in the world. Violence cannot stop violence. The world today need more love, and more Goodness. We not only believe in, we also practice what the Gospel teaches, “Love your enemies.” (luke 6,27). This is our anthem, it is our identity, it is our supreme rule, our magna carta. It is not as is we are to do nothing when people hurt us. No, we are no simply to fold our hands and allow people crush us. Rather, work with love, trace out the roots of the conflict and disagreement and speak directly to our offenders using a language free from hatred or violence. The Pope extols Mother Teresa as an icon who fought poverty, injustice and disrespect for human life by identifying herself with the world’s poorest, caring for the world’s rejected; the unborn and those abandoned. By her work, she became the conscience of world leaders. There are also many others who have achieved great things through non-violence such as Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffer, Martin Luther King Jr, Leymah Gbowee and so many others. Not left out is John Paul II who succeeded in ending the communist regime in Europe without lifting a single gun or knife.
The Church has always stood for non-violence as well as other Christian denominations. In fact, according to Pope Francis, all religions stand for and promote non-violence. “No religion is terrorist… The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war.” It means that any group or body that preaches war is not a religion.
The family is the bedroom of the world where non-violence must be taught and learnt. When conflicts and friction arise, the cure is not force but dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness. At times, by inflicting violence on children, Parents indirectly teach children that the only solution for the mistakes of others is a violent response. Yet, such children only get hardened and device tricks to hide from their parents, they then go haywire the moment they leave home. “The Politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family.
This New Year, let one of our resolutions be to follow the advice of Saint Therese of Lisieux: “Practice the little way of Love. Never miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship.” In other words, I must henceforth smile at anybody I meet regardless of what or who that person is to me. I must spread joy and peace. I must follow the manual that Jesus gave in the beatitudes. I must be meek, merciful, peaceful, pure in heart, hunger and thirst for justice. I must actively show mercy by refusing to discard people, by refusing to harm the environment, by refusing to engage in competitions with others whereby I seek to win at all costs. This New Year, I must banish violence from my heart, I must banish violence from my words, (no more shouting at others, no more insults), I must banish violence from my deeds (no more jungle justice). Every one of us can champion peace.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace. Fill my heart with Peace that I may be a promoter of peace. Amen
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you and New Year.