Allow me the privilege to first note that on Monday, Memorial Day, we will prayerfully acknowledge those who over the years have given their lives in defense of freedom here and around the world and pray for those who mourn them. Last November the end of World War I was raised up and next week we will gratefully recall the 75th anniversary of the courageous storming of Normandy beaches which resulted in the end of World War II. Since then many others have sacrificed their lives with the same motivation: defend freedom for us all.
There was a poem composed in the early days of World War I which honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice entitled ‘For the Fallen’. (Robert Laurence Binyon) One stirring verse reads: ‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.’ Amen. May they rest in peace.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid,” Jesus told the Apostles. “My peace I give to you.” We yearn for peace, but what do we mean by it. Sometimes peace is viewed as a desire to escape from our limitations and challenges. Television used to be an escape but now with so-called reality shows and 24 hour news with tickers in every corner, there isn’t much peace there at least for me. Social media is an escape for some, but how quickly it can become addictive, isolating, disrupting relationships and leading to unhealthy avenues like gossip, bullying and pornography.
Jesus offers us real peace. His peace is not an escape from reality. It is a peace that comes in the midst of the turbulent world. His gift is freeing. It offers freedom from worry, freedom to trust that there is purpose to life and freedom to live with confidence in the promise of eternal life for those who remain faithful. His is a peace in the midst of the rigors of the world, a peace that says despite the challenges of life, I am with you. A peace that says though your cross might be heavy, I bear it with you. Would it not be wonderful if we could offer that gift of peace to others.
These last days of May, school is ending. 8th graders will leave to enter high school, seniors will leave to enter college or begin a job. Transitions like that are scary – will I fit in, can I do the work, will I be happy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to give them the gift of peace, a sense of self-worth and hope? Someone is scheduled for medical tests, another faces a financial deadline, a mother is due to give birth, a couple becomes engaged, a priest is transferred. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could give them the gift of peace. We can to some degree by our presence and by our witness of faith in Jesus.
A woman who was diagnosed with cancer with a short time to live told her family “I’m ready to go; it’s just a new venture on my journey with the Lord.” That beautiful mother is a model for us in sharing the peace of Christ which is a free gift he offers us.
A 78 year grandmother had two grandsons who lived 300 miles apart. They were to graduate from high school on the same day. She could not attend both so decided to attend neither graduation. Then one of her grandsons, Jeff, asked her instead of coming to his graduation would she be his date for the school prom. She hesitated, thinking how embarrassing it would be for him, and for her. Be he insisted, saying he wanted to take his “senior” girl to the prom. They drove there in his pick-up and walked through spot lights under an arch. She wrote, “Then it was time to dance and I have never been so nervous. Was everyone thinking why doesn’t that old lady act her age?” Then a girl came up and hugged her. A boy said, “I’m glad to meet Jeff’s senior girl. You’re a great dancer.” She recalled, “I had expected the worst and found the best. And Jeff? Jeff gave me the loving gift of himself. I can’t believe I almost put dignity above that. I’d have cheated myself out of one of the best times of my life.” Jeff had the gift of peace and shared it.
The gift of peace that Jesus gives us, reflected in the Holy Spirit and reinforced by the church and the sacraments, is a gift that helps us to know that despite the challenges of life we are not alone, we will be okay, and we are loved. St. Augustine described the peace of Christ as: “serenity of mind, tranquility of soul, simplicity of heart, a bond of love, and a union of charity.” They are beautiful and reassuring words and yet we remain restless, the work of the evil one. There is a prayer I like that helps me in my moments of anxiety and doubt. Perhaps it will have meaning for you.
“Lord, sometimes life gets so complicated, and I find it is so difficult to cope. I wonder if you realize how many problems I have to put up with. Deep in my heart I know you must, but forgive me if I feel once in a while that even you don’t care. You do care. ‘Share with me your own strength today. Open my eyes to the vision of your loving presence. Help me to stop feeling sorry for myself and believing that all the burdens of the world are on my shoulders. I cast my cares upon you, O Lord, your shoulders are broader than mine. You did say, ‘come to me all who labor and are heavily burdened.’ I’m taking you at your word. Be with me in these troubled times and give me peace of mind and heart. Amen.’ (Sacred Heart League)
Jesus says to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. My peace I give you.” May we accept the free gift of peace our Lord Jesus Christ offers each of us that our hearts may not be troubled or afraid. That is what those who we remember on Memorial Day died for.