Seasonal Reflection:  Christmas, 2018

Reflecting on Peace


Each year St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens presents an Advent Lessons and Carols that is absolutely beautiful, but this year’s touched me more powerfully than ever before because of two pieces. One was the reflection Fr. John Holliday, C.M. provided, and the other was the story behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” But to explain why both affected me so deeply, I must share what was going through my mind leading up to their presentations.

Most of the program preceded Fr. Holliday’s reflection and the story of the poem. Throughout, there were several Advent and Christmas songs, scripture readings, and prayers. Most, if not all, spoke of peace on earth and evoked numerous images of hope, love, and joy, as is emblematic of the season. We know, however, that peace, in particular, seems horribly remote in the world outside such festively decorated settings. I sat there listening to the music and readings and pondering how we reconcile such uplifting messages with the reality of never-ending war, detention of refugees, violence and injustice all around. I also thought of a woman, a tenant of a friend, who so closely associated the phrase, “peace on earth” with Christmas that she couldn’t understand its use any other time of the year, just a holiday greeting and no more. If this is how superficial those words have become, how sad for all of us!

And then Fr. Holliday stood up and pulled me out of my mental meanderings. He began with a brief explanation of the meaning of Advent, “a time when we prepare ourselves…for the coming of Jesus.” He went on to note the significance of prophets in the Advent season, not as foretellers of the future, but as people who “call people to more faithful covenant living.” And he made a point that prophets are not just from ancient time, like Isaiah, but also modern, like Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Dorothy Day. “God continues to speak” to us in scripture and through the prophets, old and new, and we reinterpret them to help us find meaning in our current situations. When Fr. Holliday raised the question, “Why are we still waiting for Jesus?” I became particularly engaged. Early Christians expected Jesus’ second coming in their lifetimes, but two millennia later, he still hasn’t returned. Father asked, “Was there a misunderstanding? Has Jesus changed his mind?” Rather, Fr. Holliday offered that we wait in faith because we believe that “Jesus will never accept evil as a permanent part of God’s good creation,” but “our world is not yet what it should be.” It is our responsibility to partner with Christ to help make it so. Fr. Holliday then quoted Fr. Richard Rohr, “We are the second coming of Christ”.

As Fr. Holliday said those words, I was thinking them, like a lightning bolt striking: We are the second coming of Christ! Oh my gosh! What if that is so? How exciting, but also how scary!

Before I had time to fully absorb such a lofty notion, the story of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” followed. It turns out that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow struggled with the same despair that all the happy talk of peace on earth, good will to men just wasn’t matched in reality. Longfellow enjoyed a very good family life with a loving wife and five children, but then tragedy struck not once, but twice. First, his wife was killed in a fire. Longfellow, himself, was badly injured trying to save her. About the same time, the Civil War broke out and, much to his regret, Longfellow’s oldest son joined the Yankee forces. In time, this son was severely wounded and left permanently disabled. This series of heart-breaking events prompted Longfellow to write,

In despair, I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song of
Peace on earth, good will to men.”

But that was not the end of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Something happened to turn the tide:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Truly, the message of Advent and Christmas is hope, hope in the promise of the Christ child, hope in our own participation in the redemption of the world, hope in Christmas bells that remind us “God is not dead, nor does God sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to all.”


Prayer

 

Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure.
Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness.
Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.
And show us what each one of us can do to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace.

-- Frank Borman, Apollo 8 space mission, 1968



Suggested Actions

  • - Read the full poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the full story behind it at this website: https://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Edit_I.Heard.the.Bells.html

  • - As partners in the second coming of Christ, commit to one thing you will do in the new year to move the world a step closer to the fullness of peace and justice for all.

    Causes include:

    economic conversion of the U.S. budget from a war budget to a peace budget providing universal health care, affordable housing, living wages, and quality education for all;

    asylum for refugees at the U.S./Mexico border;

    a return of the U.S. to the Iran Deal, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, or the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty;

    the ratification of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons;

    an end to the war in Yemen;

    justice for Palestine;

    peace in Syria;

    safety for the Rohingya, Kachin, and other displaced people.

    Possible actions include:

    studying the issue you choose to become an articulate speaker about it;

    talking to friends, family, co-workers, classmates, students, neighbors, or fellow parishioners;

    writing letters;

    signing petitions;

    making phone calls;

    joining rallies, demonstrations or vigils;

    marching;

    using visual or performing arts;

    praying.

  • - Stay on top of things through PCMNY’s e-mail action alert network, website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and activities

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