Not as the world gives

6th Sunday of Easter (C)

Speaking to his disciples on the night before he died, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Then he said, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Which leads me to wonder, how does the world give peace?

A few examples come to mind. We contemplate putting down weapons, disarmament, or at least restricting the use of arms. Policy makers search for common ground; they come to the table looking for mutuality. Citizens of the world seek ways to better understand one another, to be more considerate, to share to planet’s resources, and to resolve issues that lead to intolerance and division. All noble steps towards a peaceable kingdom.

It’s complicated, though. The way in which the world gives peace is complicated by the fact that the Peace that Christ left with us, which motivates and inspires us, is opposed by so many.

Yesterday Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, poet, and pacifist died. He was 94. Early on, Berrigan’s tireless work for peace took the form of protest and civil disobedience against the Vietnam war, most famously when, in 1968, he along with nine other activists seized and burned hundreds of military draft cards.

Considered by many at the time to be both a traitor and an anarchist, Berrigan tirelessly articulated, in word and deed, the unheeded message of nonviolence which he located in Scripture. His death came after nine decades of personal risk, multiple arrests, imprisonment, and ceaseless opposition to societal injustice, something he knew to be an offense against God.

Berrigan’s campaign for peace not only earned him the contempt of the US government, but it also antagonized many members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who rejected his tactics and attempted to squelch his influence on the young Catholics whom he taught in university.

As a poet, Berrigan frequently blended his pacifist and theological vision into striking commentaries on religious blindness. In the following poem published in 1964[1], Berrigan suggests that the Church’s attention, while sincere, is misdirected away from the essential work of Christ in the World.

We Are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say

They hold up Christ for ascension
like twelve earnest athletes at a trampoline, but

If I go, I return, He says
skilled in gravity and the dynamics of flesh

Which decree His continuing declension
like dew or fiery napalm

Or the seeding of streams with trout eggs.
The twelve earnest orantes hold their hands

Safe as stone up to the absent One
which He presently strikes, forces and fills—

World, and world’s Body.

—Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Prophets like Daniel Berrigan and his brothers Phillip (1923 – 2002), and Jerry (1919 – 2015), walk amongst us, nudging us to awaken from our complacency. In the coming days, there will be accolades and honors and likely calls for beatification. Those of us who esteemed the work of the Berrigan brothers will read every word. But even as we hold them up and admire their vocation, we recognize that prophets are difficult to be around. Their means to peace make us uncomfortable. We dislike having the status quo challenged, and we don’t like messes.

Prophets disrupt our “peace,” which we have misunderstood to mean a lack of personal discomfort. Why can’t we just enjoy our Sunday afternoons and not be bothered? It’s just so tiresome to hear someone complain about injustice all the time.

Undoubtedly, we are responsible for some of the stain the church bears on behalf of its rejected prophets, but it is not a permanent mark.

Modern day prophets like Daniel Berrigan challenge us with every step to receive the Peace of Christ and give it to the world, not as the world gives it, but as Jesus did.

Today’s readings can be found here.

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[1] Daniel Berrigan, SJ, ed. John Dear. We are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say, from And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957-1997. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998) 58.

A river runs through it!

A Guest Post by Fr. Joel Fortier

A  river runs through my life, like a thread, connecting everything, weaving a beautiful tapestry of life in an unending flow. That river, that thread, is the Spirit. The Spirit of God not only abides in us, it flows through us. The Spirit is a river of energy, an underground current of love, a force field which flows through all creation like a water-table beneath all of life, an elan vital! [Ps 1:3Jer 17:8Ezk 31:5 and Ezk 47:12Is 44:4]. We are not only “in Christ”, Christ is “in us.” We share and live in the Spirit of Jesus; we share Christ’s life in love. [Gal 2:20 and Col 1:27].

What we can do and help each other do, is to tap the Spirit, the river of divine love and grace which flows through us and everything, by our encounters with each other in love, especially through our compassionate prayer, love, patience, and mercy. Then the Holy Spirit will well up within us as a fountain of living water. [Jn 4:14 and Jn 7:38]. As we tap the Spirit of God which is within us, we stay grounded and live in the flow of intentional Love. It is to stay grounded in the Presence which is within, surrounds, sustains, and connects us. We are like trees planted near running water when we live in conscious intentional love. It is what Jesus calls…invites…and “commands” us to do. [Jn 13:34-35].

It is The Way Jesus showed us in himself to eternal life. It is The Way into the divine energy and love which flows through all of us at all times. It yearns, groans, and desires to be released in us and in our world. It can bring life and healing into the parched earth of our broken lives and hardened hearts. It can keep us safe, centered, and grounded when we find ourselves in the midst of negative destructive energy. That is why Jesus tells and shows us how to love and forgive even our enemies.

The Power of Love

Love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death, and grace is stronger than sin. It is the power and victory of the cross we are called to celebrate and proclaim. Mercy trumps all other forces of sin, destruction, and death. It creates cosmos and harmony in the midst of chaos and discord. Love is the only force that can change our world.

Love creates Peace when there is no peace. Presence breeds Presence. It quells life and people who are not Present, when people seem out of their minds. We need that Presence now more than ever in the midst of an insane and violent world. We need the Peace and Presence of Christ in our lives; in our hearts and in our minds. “Have in you the mind of Christ”. [Phil 2:5].

If we live in conscious intentional love we will have the peace, heart, and mind of Christ. It is a choice, a decision we can make even when we do not “feel” loving. The decision to love can be made even if we don’t feel like it. It is what Christ did. I’m sure it didn’t feel good hanging from the cross, but that is where Jesus poured out the last drop of his precious blood upon us…where we were loved, cleansed, healed, and brought into wholeness [1Peter 2:24]. That is why Jesus said, “Love one another AS I have loved you.” [Jn 15:12]. It is that experience into which we were Baptized. If we die with Christ we shall surely also live with Christ. [Rom 6:3-5, and Rom 8].

The Practice of the Presence of God

To be able to make such a choice, such a decision, we need the strength of practiced virtue. We need to proactively Practice the Presence of God in all times and circumstances, so that when it is hard to be Present in Love we will have some conditioning that enables us to do what we do not feel like doing. We can practice it in the simplest of ways and mundane circumstances of life, such as when we are stuck in traffic or a long line at the super market, in any frustrating situation, or when we are with people who are toxic and negative.

The Practice of the Presence of God is closely linked to the virtue of divine Patience. It has been said that Patience is the mother of all virtue. If we can learn to be in that place of knowing Presence when we are distracted, anxious, or in a hurry, we can grow in the divine virtue of Patience. We will grow in our ability to stay grounded in Love; centered and grounded in the Spirit of divine grace and love which is flowing in every circumstance and moment of life. To Be in the Presence is to be in the flow of the divine love, mercy, and compassion which flows from the Sacred Heart of Christ.

The Practice of the Presence of God will enable us to act rather than just react. It will help us to put an end to the cycle of hate, violence, and negative energy. It will enable us to be present with love rather than allowing ourselves to be infected by the toxic energy of non-love, sin, and negative energy, reacting with hate or violence. It will enable us to be nonviolent and Peaceful, to bear the Presence Christ in our world.

Jesus knew how to be Present and make appropriate responses to people and situations.  He could be and eat with sinners and tax collectors, as well as with rich people. He could speak and act in truth when he needed to, as in the temple cleansing, and the calling out of Pharisees, lawyers, and hypocrites. And he could be silent, mute as a lamb before the shearer, with Pilot [Isaiah 53:7], and in the non-verbal love shown from the cross. Jesus taught us how to practice the Presence of God in all circumstances and in the ultimate way of love; how to grow in age, wisdom, and grace, to do God’s will and come to the fullness of glory. Jesus teaches us how to be and bear the Presence Christ in the world today.

The Practice of the Presence of God opens us to and is an entry point for us into the Kingdom of God. It is about the “Omnipresence” of God, bidden or unbidden, God is always present to us, with us, and in us. The Kingdom is here…now…in us and in our midst. [Lk 17:20-21].

Let us take time now to be mindful, in this moment, take some deep breaths, and be present to the God who is always Present to us.

God is indeed the ground of our being, always flowing through us and in our lives. We need to say yes to the action of God’s grace and presence in our lives as Mary did; to stay centered and grounded in Love, in the divine Presence. It is what saves and connects us!

A River runs through it!

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Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St. Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”