The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C)
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” – Thomas Merton
Our gospel reading is one of the most significant revelations of God as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is implicit and hinted at all throughout scripture, even back in Genesis. When we create something, our creation reveals our own self. And the divine writing of the Holy Scriptures is no exception. That’s the point of the Scriptures: God’s revelation of Himself for our salvation—not just as the subject of the writing, but the very writing itself; the Word of God is God.
One of the great mysteries—the central mystery—of the Christian Faith is the Holy Trinity. And of course, our parish is dedicated to the honor of this central mystery. It is the mystery of who God is. Therefore, it is the mystery of existence; the mystery of the nature of everything, and the mystery of what we are called to choose to participate in, by the divine gift of our free will.
One of the aspects of divine nature is that of perfect peace, the Hebrew word, “Shalom.” Ancient languages have a relatively small vocabulary, but the words are deep in meaning. Modern languages like English have tens of thousands of words, which are particular and narrow in their scope. What thoughts come to you with the words, “peace, greeting, happiness, generosity, patience, love, wholeness, forgiveness, unity, contentment”? This cluster of words are all aspects of the Hebrew word, “Shalom,” which is simply translated, “peace.” God is this peace; He is happy, he is love, he is joyful, he is rest, he is perfect. He wants for nothing outside of himself. And he created us to have His divine peace, for all eternity. When you hear this word in the Mass, especially after the Lord’s Prayer, I want you to remember all these thoughts and feelings that are intended by that word.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus says to his Apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Jesus in his divine nature never loses the perfect peace of the Holy Trinity. But in his human nature, he experiences the lack of peace that is our limitedness, our unrelenting desire for something (for unity with something) that is not within us. In the mystery of the Ascension of the incarnation of the Son back into the Trinity, which we celebrate in the Feast of Ascension Thursday, the Holy Day of Obligation this week, this existential question in our human nature is answered by our union into divine nature.
Peace is not just absence of worry or anxiety, or absence of conflict with others. That’s the world’s peace, and it’s superficial and unstable. But God offers us an existential peace; a true peace. We as humanity cannot attain this peace of our own, but we can get moments of it. It is not within our reach, and unable to be maintained in our turbulent existence. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once compared humans to Bulldog Ants. If a Bulldog Ant is split in half, the front and rear segments will enter into a savage fight. The head will bite the tail, while the tail will sting the head. That is the way we are. Always at war with ourselves. Jesus said to his disciples, “I’m not just giving you peace; I’m giving you my peace, that comes from being perfectly open and united to divine being.” One of my favorite words of scripture, especially in times of anxiety, come from Psalm 48: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, concerns what is often called “The Council of Jerusalem,” the first Church Council. It was called because disagreement was growing within the Church, between gentile Christians and conservative Jewish Christians over the question of whether gentiles needed to convert to Judaism in order to become Christian. The scriptures didn’t give clear instruction on this question. Jesus hadn’t given clear instruction on this question. So Paul and Barnabas led a group from Antioch to Jerusalem, where Peter and James and the other Apostles and presbyters were, to settle the matter. Our reading today skips over the Council and picks up with the conclusion of the Council being given to the church in Antioch. It says, “Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind…” So those who were teaching on their own supposed authority did not actually have any Apostolic authority or mission. And the effect of their unsanctioned teaching was to disturb the church’s peace and confuse the faithful. “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…” Church teaching is not a matter of the church deciding what to teach. It is the discernment of what God is guiding the Church to teach, by the apostolic charism of the magisterium, the teaching authority of the church.
The second reading, from the Revelation, gives us a mystical view of tensions between the church and the secular world. It would bring great peace to the hearts of the suffering Christians to know that their sufferings were part of bringing the beautiful heavenly church, the New Jerusalem, the city of God, to earth.
Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” This image is that of the Temple. When Moses built the Tent of Meeting, and when Solomon built the great Jerusalem Temple, the glory of the Lord filled the place with His presence, often in the form of a great cloud of glory, the Spirit of Divine Presence. We are invited into this union with God by the Sacrament of Baptism: for ourselves be the living temples of God. We often think of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but it is the unity of the Holy Trinity: the Father and the Son make their dwelling within us, too. So long as we avoid deadly sin, by which we would shut down our side of our communion with God. But even then, God never ceases to invite us back to reconcile with Him…because this union with divine love, peace, and truth, are what He has made us for.
I was inspired with this thought during my Friday Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration. I want to invite all of you to have your home blessed, even if it was done years ago. I want your homes to be holy, cleansed of the obstacles to holiness and peace that you knowingly or unknowingly invite there. I want your rooms where you spend you lives to be holy. I want your bedrooms to be holy. I want the space where you spend time as a family to be holy. I want your life to be holy. Because your human existence, in the image of God, is holy. And if there is a tension between the holiness of your existence, and a lack of holiness in your life, you will not have peace—not God’s peace. And you will look to satisfy that need for peace in disordered ways that take you away from the real peace (all the holy aspects of peace) that you are made to seek… and that can be found only in the peace of God.