Archbishop Leonard P. Blair
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” Thus reads the Gloria at Mass, to be sung at Christmas. In the words of our former pope, Benedict: “God’s glory and peace on earth are inseparable. Where God is excluded, there is a breakdown of peace in the world.”
As we approach Christmas 2017, it would be nice to say that peace reigns in our hearts and homes, our communities and country, our parishes and the Church herself. Yet we know it is not so. Today, many souls, even in the Church, are far from peaceful. Many people feel beset, besieged and insecure in the face of the many uncertainties and threats to world peace and social well-being; to marriage and family and to faith itself. A lack of inner peace leads to the anger and hostility that afflict so many people when they believe themselves to be offended, injured or thwarted in some way.
It can be argued that as long as people are people there will always be turmoil, division and strife. However, the angels were able to proclaim peace to the shepherds in Bethlehem even as King Herod was sharpening his sword to kill the newborn Messiah. It is possible to enjoy peace as a gift of God even in the midst of the raging of the world, the flesh and the devil — provided that God is with us, and we are with God.
For God to be with us, and we with God, we have to let our lives be guided by certain truths of faith.
The first truth is that whatever life brings, God’s providence guides and governs everything. “To those who love God all things work together unto good,” St. Paul writes. When at Christmas we hear “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will,” we should be mindful of all the terrible hardships and threats that the Holy Family was experiencing at that moment in Bethlehem. Jesus said, “I have come to bring, not peace, but the sword.” His earthly life began with the massacre of the innocents by the sword, and his life ended with a lance thrust through his side. Yet to those who put all their faith and hope in God, Jesus promises the peace that the world cannot give. God is never far from us and, provided we stay close to him, we will be at peace.
Another truth is that God sees all. He will be the just judge of everything that happens in life, so there’s no need for our blood pressure to soar when we witness evil and injustice, or for our hearts to sink when all seems lost. At the judgment, God will bring to light the secrets of every heart, and on everything that has ever happened in this world the light of his truth will shine. Then he will give to each person what his or her conduct deserves. We are moved by the birth of the infant Jesus at Christmas, but let’s not forget what he said: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” (Jn 9:39)
Last, but not least, our lives ought to be guided by the truth of the Incarnation. By becoming man in the Person of the Son, God chose to redeem us precisely “in the flesh.” As one spiritual author put it, “God understands our human ‘mess’ firsthand.” He lived and died amid the “mess” that we fallen creatures have made of life. But as St. Paul teaches, Jesus “is our peace” precisely because he has “broken down” all the walls of separation and alienation that we have created in ourselves, among ourselves and with God.” (cf. Eph 2:14)
As we prepare for Christmas this year, may each of us seek to create a place for God, not only in our own hearts and homes, but in our society and in our world, so that we can know peace. God is increasingly being shut out of so much of life. There is little room or time for him in the lives of many people. Yet Christ is always looking to be born anew in human hearts, so that the joyful message of the angels at Christmas can be fulfilled: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.”
May you and your loved ones be blessed with all the peace and joy that Christmas is meant to bring.