1 January 2009
Bishop Donal Murray homily for World Day of Peace
St Joseph’s Church, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 1 January 2009
This is the land where Mary became the Mother of God and where her Son died for us and rose again to the life of perfect peace and joy. His resurrection was the triumph of life and goodness over death and evil. In that risen life with him, our peace and joy will, please God, be full. We pray that the people of his own land may this year see something of that peace and joy.
We are conscious also of other areas of the world where wars and armed conflicts are going on, and countries where there is oppression and famine, and places where people are driven from their homes. From each of these areas we should hear the voice of the Lord saying to us: “I am hungry; I am thirsty; I am a stranger; I am in prison”.
We pray also for our own city and country that there may be peace in 2009. It is very important that the Regeneration Project does not disappoint the hopes that have been raised. If it were allowed to fail because of financial pressures it would be many decades before such a project would be likely to gain credibility again.
We should pray today that, in all the areas of conflict throughout the world, the futility and waste of violence and killing should become clear to all involved. Violence destroys communities; it destroys the lives of individuals – it breaks the hearts and the bodies of those who are attacked and it brutalises the hearts of those who do the attacking. It fuels hatred; it provokes vindictiveness; it leads nowhere. One of the most damaging aspects of violence is that it distorts the minds of children who are brought up in a context which glorifies revenge and which is desensitised to the horror of killing another human being.
Violence has to be ended if any kind of peace is to be achieved. But there is more to peace than just ending violence. Peace is not just a balance of power between opposing forces who are too afraid of each other to attack, nor is it something imposed by force leaving people resentful and broken(1).
The many causes of conflict also need to be addressed. This year, Pope Benedict’s message for World Peace Day, speaks particularly about poverty. He calls the conditions of deprivation in which many individuals and nations are living today “a grave threat to peace”(2).
An increasingly globalised world can increase inequalities, but at the same time it challenges us in new ways to see the need for a deeper solidarity. We need a solidarity that is interested in the welfare of every human being(3). The human family is becoming more interdependent. The economic turmoil that the whole world is experiencing, for instance, is a clear indication that we are one human family and that what happens in one part of the world affects all of us. But in this globalised context, the growing gap between rich and poor creates conditions in the world, and even within relatively affluent countries, that “are an insult to the innate dignity”(4) of many of our brothers and sisters.
That is the heart of the problem of violence and of poverty. It is the heart of the task of being peacemakers who, as Jesus promised, will be called children of God (Mt 5:9). It is not just about structures and development aid and about giving developing countries fair and equal access to world markets. All of that is essential if the problem is going to be addressed effectively.
But something more is necessary. As Pope Paul VI put it nearly four decades ago:
If, beyond legal rules, there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt(5).
We have to “set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan; we are called to form one family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – model their behaviour according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility”(6).
Jesus said that the peacemakers would be called children of God. To recognise myself as a child of God means recognising that every human being shares the same dignity. As proof that we are God’s children, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba’ Father” (Second Reading). Calling God my Father – praying the Our Father – means calling every human being my brother or sister; and, more than just saying it, it means treating every person as my brother or sister.
It has to be more than words. We need to allow the words really to sink into our hearts and minds. The truth has to become part of us and we have to go on learning it for the whole of our lives. Mary is our model in that – “she kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”.
There are many things we can do to improve the situation. We can support the work of Trócaire or Bóthar or Concern or other development agencies. We can support the work of the Society of St Vincent de Paul which will be more important in the coming year because of the very gloomy outlook for the economy. All of that is good and necessary. But what is most important is not the donations we give; it is to give ourselves.
“Practical activity will always be insufficient”, Pope Benedict says
My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift(7).
That is a challenge for everyone in facing the problems of the world – not to see those who live in different cultures and in different situations simply as ‘them’, but as part of what we mean by ‘us’ – our human family, the family of God.
In the coming year in Limerick, I hope that there will be major advances through the Regeneration Project. It is also clear that there will be major hardship and crises including serious job losses caused by the recession. As the problems and the possibilities emerge we will find that we need to go on reflecting as Mary did, learning again and again what it really means to recognise other people, whatever their address, whatever their nationality, whatever their past history, whatever their religion, as sons and daughters of God, as people for whom Jesus died, as his brothers and sisters in whom he comes to us asking for our care and love. And we will have to go on asking ourselves whether we are treating them in that way. We have to ask ourselves will Jesus really be able to say to us in their name “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in prison and you cared for me”?
Our prayer on this World Day of Peace is the ancient blessing we heard in the first reading. We ask God to bless us and keep us, to let his face shine upon us and to be gracious to us, to look upon us with kindness and to give us his peace.
Bishop of Limerick
1.Cf. VATICAN II, Gaudium et Spes, 78.
2.BENEDICT XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace 2009, [Message], 1.
5.PAUL VI, Octagesima Adveniens, 23,
7.BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 34.
Martin Long, Director, Catholic COmmunications Office (086 172 7678)