Digging into many meanings of peace

By Karla Luke
“Peace be with you,” are the first words our resurrected Lord spoke to the fearful Apostles hiding in the Upper Room on that first day of the week. Peace. Assuredly, peace must have been the last thought on their minds after all of the terrifying events they witnessed in the final days of Jesus’ human life on Earth. Their friend and brother, betrayed, denied, falsely accused, tortured and murdered was now standing before them with an offer of peace. What a contrast!
When we think of peace, we generally think the absence of conflict or war; however, in the scriptural sense, peace is much more. When we possess true peace, we enjoy wholeness, harmony and right relationship with God, others and self. Peace, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, is a gift from God to us that is to be shared with all. Jesus, our brother, the Prince of Peace, came to unite heaven and earth and to show, by His selfless and loving example, how to be in right relationship with God and others. In The Joy of the Gospel – Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that in order to achieve peace we must become a people.
People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.” Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter. (220 Evangelii Gaudium)
Pope Francis proposes that we can build a people of peace by being attentive to four specific areas: time, unity, reality and wholeness.
Time is greater than space – Today much emphasis is placed on immediate results. Let’s face it, we live in an instant gratification society. The power goes to the person that makes it happen the fastest! Pope Francis tells us that we must focus more on the processes that develop societies and help move people more toward full and meaningful lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and less on outcomes that benefit a few.
Unity prevails over conflict – Conflicts exist everywhere, in families, societies and among nations. People choose to address conflicts either by ignoring them, embracing them or facing them head on. It is the latter, recommended by Pope Francis, that has the greatest impact on building peace. In facing conflict we endeavor to go beyond the surface of the issue and establish meaningful dialogue affording dignity to all involved in hopes of coming to a deeper understanding of one another.
Realities are more important than ideas – We consistently struggle with trying to connect ideas to realities. In some ways we bury reality in unattainable objectives and fundamentalism. While it is good to have high aspirations, we must not lose sight of the present condition. While Jesus’ incarnation is the reality of the Word made flesh, it illustrates that reality is necessary to evangelization. The history of our salvation is the reality and we must continue act in that same justice and charity to bring to life the word of Matthew’s Gospel, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”
The whole is greater than the part – There exists a relationship between the whole and the part: namely, we must be attentive to the worldly condition as well as our own local condition. Working for peace and justice in own community can have an exponential effect on other communities thereby assuring everyone, even the poor, of their own rightful place in society. We seek to maintain our own God-given individuality while pursuing the common good.
So as Catholic Christians when we come to that part of the Liturgy that invites us to share the gift of peace, let us remember that we are truly expressing the desire for wholeness, harmony and right relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Peace be with you!
(Karla Luke works in the Office of Education. She is writing reflections on Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel all year.)

United in Faith-United in Love

By Karla Luke
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he reminds the citizens of Philippi to be united in mind, faith and love. Think about it, he wouldn’t have had to remind them unless they had forgotten! The young church in Philippi, after Paul’s departure, had suddenly encountered grave deficiencies such as selfish ambition, conceit, and self-interest. Sound familiar? No matter where we look today, we can find a plethora of examples of selfish ambition, conceit and self-interest. They occur in the political realm, in social and economic arenas and yes, even in the Church.
The good news is that we can all benefit from Paul’s words, “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also, everyone, for those of others” (Phil 2:2-4).
Notice how these setbacks relate to self. What a peaceful world we would have if we were all able to put aside our own selfish ambitions, conceitedness, and self-interests. It would be peaceful and ideal, but unfortunately because of our humanity, not very realistic. When we all try to take care of self, and value self-interest above all else, it is likely to cause conflict.
Pope Francis, in his simple and yet humble manner states in paragraph 226 of Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, that “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart.” At times, conflict, whether global, local or personal can be so overwhelming, that we lose our perspective which makes it extremely difficult to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”
He notes three ways in which conflict is treated: ignore it, embrace it or the best way, face it. By inviting the Holy Spirit into our conflict, we are able to resolve it and become the peacemakers Jesus teaches us about in the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel.
We are being challenged as a church to go beyond our conflicts to recognize the deepest dignity of others, whether Christians or not, as sons and daughters of God.  We must believe that our similarities as children of God which unite us are more powerful than the differences that we allow to divide us. “In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict.” (Evangelii Gaudium P. 228)
Pope Francis spoke to the general audience in Vatican City on June 19, 2013, saying: “There is communion and unity: all are in relation to one another and all combine to form a single vital body, profoundly connected to Christ. Let us remember this well: being part of the church means being united to Christ and receiving from him the divine life that makes us to live as Christians.
It means remaining united to the Pope and bishops who are instruments of unity and communion and it also means learning to overcome selfishness and divisions, to understand one another better, and to harmonize the variety and richness of each one. In a word, loving God and the persons around us, in our families, parishes, and associations, better. Body and limbs must be united in order to live!”
God blesses and affirms unity most prominently in the Holy Trinity, the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the two natures of Jesus Christ, united as God and man, and the commissioning of Jesus by God to unite the scattered children into one church. So, let us continue to work for unity: unity within ourselves, our families, parishes, cultures, and countries. In working toward unity, we achieve peace.

Nativity offers opportunity to embrace joy

By Karla Luke
“Ever since Jesus entered into history, with his birth in Bethlehem, humanity has received the germ of the Kingdom of God, like the terrain that receives the seed, the promise of a future harvest. There is no need to search elsewhere! Jesus has come to bring joy to all forever. It is not merely a hoped-for joy, or a joy postponed to paradise: here on earth we are sad but in paradise we will be joyful. No! It is not this, but rather it is a joy that is already real and that can be experienced now, because Jesus Himself is our joy, and with Jesus our home is joyful.”
­— Pope Francis
Merry Christmas! As the Advent season comes to a close and the Christmas season begins, once again our faithful Creator has bestowed on us the gifts of hope, faith, joy and peace through the incarnation of His only Son Jesus Christ. Since the beginning of creation, God has constantly demonstrated His love for us by trusting us to love Him in return.
Because we sinned and fell short, God loved us enough to come down into our world to show us the way back to Him, in the person of Jesus Christ. He loved us enough to become us. This alone should fill us with immense joy. Pope Francis wrote in his  about how this joy comes into our hearts.
“A Christian is a person whose heart is filled with peace because he or she knows to place joy in the Lord even when experiencing difficult moments in life. To have faith does not mean not having difficult moments, but rather having the strength to face them knowing that we are not alone. And this is the peace God gives to His sons and daughters”.
— Pope Francis

We are called to experience the true joy of this Christmas season by being in community with others. Yes, we should visit with family and friends as our traditions dictate. However, we should also reach out to those who are forgotten, lonely, poor and imprisoned.
Our true and authentic joy does not come from receiving gifts and new material possessions, but it comes from encountering the different parts of the Body of Christ, no matter where we may find them. As our baptismal promises indicate, we are missionaries of joy and as missionaries of joy we are called to bring that same joy to all others including those who do not know Christ and those who must rediscover Christ.
So as we celebrate this Christmas season, let’s not forget, in the words of Pope Francis, that we are “the terrain that receives the seed for the promise of a future harvest.” We have received Christ, the true seed of joy. Let us plant Him within ourselves to yield a great harvest for the Kingdom of God. Be the joy of Christ to all! Merry Christmas!
(Karla Luke is the coordinator of operations and support services for the Office of Catholic Education. She is writing reflections from Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel this year.)

Pray for us … intercessions powerful tools

By Karla Luke
Intercessory prayer, to pray and seek good for others, is a powerful form of prayer and evangelization. It involves pleading with and thanking God on behalf of another person or persons. God loves a heart that is generous for others and we can find many examples of this in Scripture.
Consider St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.  This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Jesus Christ is our ultimate intercessor, as he stands between us and God, leading and modeling for us the way to the Father. Jesus himself said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus’ life is an example of interceding for us to the Father.
He interceded for the bride and groom at the wedding in Cana, for Mary and Martha when he raised Lazarus, and for countless sick and suffering people through healing miracles. Because Jesus is our holy model, He is showing us that He wants us to plead to our heavenly Father on behalf of others as well. This month, we honor the great intercessors of our faith, the saints. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis highlights the graces realized from intercessory prayer.
“At the same time, it is the gratitude which flows from a heart attentive to others. When evangelizers rise from prayer, their hearts are more open; freed of self-absorption, they are desirous of doing good and sharing their lives with others.
“The great men and women of God were great intercessors. Intercession is like a “leaven” in the heart of the Trinity. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them. We can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality he is always there first. What our intercession achieves is that his power, his love and his faithfulness are shown ever more clearly in the midst of the people.” (282-283 Evangelii Gaudium)
Just as a mother prays for her children, so Mary, the mother of God and our mother too, prays for us! Just as we pray for our brothers and sisters, so the saints and angels pray and intercede for us. As we follow the model of Mary and the saints, let us also pray in thanksgiving to Jesus and to the holy men and women of God who are constantly praying, watching, guiding, pleading and thanking Him on our behalf until we are able to be with them in heaven.
(Karla Luke is the coordinator of operations and support services for the Office of Catholic Education.)

Family life an opportunity to embrace joy

By Karla Luke
The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”. [Evangelii Gaudium 60]
The above passage speaks directly to some of the proceedings at the third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family. The theme of the Synod, “the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” recognizes the urgent need of the church to address the social and spiritual concerns of the family today. In paragraph 66 of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis called the family the fundamental cell of society. Our families are the places where we learn about ourselves, our faith and how to relate to each other as human beings with human dignity.
The family dynamic is rich with spiritual symbolism. The love that unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is likened to the love that unites father, mother and child. God consecrated this holy union by allowing His only Son to be born to Joseph and Mary, establishing the “domestic church.” (CCC, 1655). It is our primary family relationships that form the basis for how we will relate to others as our personal world begins to grow.
Strong families build strong societies and faithful followers build strong churches; therefore, it is incumbent upon us as a Catholic Christian family to insure the future of our church by thoughtfully resolving the issues that families face today. Our bishops attended the Synod in an attempt to address these issues. What can we do to help?
Live the Gospel – These words are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Remember that each encounter with another person is an opportunity to encounter Christ. Just as we show members of our families how much we love them, we must also be aware of those who have broken families or no families at all.
Be merciful and forgiving – Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32). We must be tolerant and forgiving of grievances against ourselves and demonstrate forgiveness to our human brothers and sisters.
Pray and faithfully go forth in joy – We must accept God’s challenge to go forth and make disciples of all nations. We stand firmly on the shoulders of the great prophets and saints who have lovingly made a path for us. We pray for peace and justice for all of creation
The human family, is a visible, earthly expression of God’s own intense love for us. It is where we learn our Gospel values of love, mercy, and forgiveness or in the absence of family, we fail to learn them. We are obliged to continue to build up and strengthen our families as one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind.
(Karla Luke is the coordinator of operations and support services for the Office of Catholic Education in the Jackson diocese. She will continue this series on the Joy of the Gospel on in future editions of Mississippi Catholic.)

Catholic school identity rooted in joy of gospel

Forming our future
By Karla Luke
The word “joy,” when considered in a spiritual sense,  is a lasting contentment that is strongly rooted in our faith, God’s grace and inner peace. Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, is the first apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis written in 2013. It is a practical outline or roadmap to lead the church on the path for a new evangelization. Pope Francis intends for us to purposefully examine our vocation as missionary disciples and more importantly, to embrace that mission with joy.
It is for this reason that our schools have chosen to study The Joy of the Gospel as part of our Annual Catholic Identity Study for the ongoing religious formation of our educators.
Pope Francis is known for his humility and straightforwardness in speaking about the mission of our church. In many of his talks we often hear “encounter, mercy, unity and go forth.” These words govern how we should be in relationship with others. It is through our encounter with others that we are able to encounter Christ. He explains how important it is for our church to seek others as Christ sought us, to show mercy to others as Christ has shown us, to live joyfully in community and to go out and spread the good news of the Gospel to everyone we meet.
Sometimes these concepts stand in direct conflict with what society represents. He calls the Catholic Church to contradict the polarized world view and to represent the true joy of being a follower of Christ. We used Pope Francis’ choice words to develop our four Catholic Identity Units this year: Joy in: Encounter, Joy in Mercy, Joy in Solidarity and Joy in Going Forth.
Joy in Encounter – Every day when we meet others, we encounter the person of Jesus Christ. Whether it is a student, parent, or colleague, we have an opportunity to demonstrate our love for Christ by our interactions with others. We show students that we are not meant to travel this Christian journey alone. We were created to be in community with each other. Sure, we often confront challenges but we cannot let those challenges be obstacles to our salvation. Our Catholic schools are “mini societies” where challenges are faced every day. However they are also ideal communities where we can teach/model love, joy, kindness, acceptance and self-control. We demonstrate daily in our schools, “We love others because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Joy in Mercy – As God showed mercy to us by sending Jesus His Only Son, we must show mercy to each other. In Matthew 5:7 we are told, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Christ, Himself, is telling us to show mercy to one another. Again, in the Pope’s exhortation, he acknowledges there are worldly temptations that may serve as obstacles to our salvation; but he urges us, as the church, to resist those temptations.
We must show mercy and compassion for those who have fallen victim to the economy and unbalanced financial system, to those who are culturally marginalized. The students in our Catholic schools eagerly welcome opportunities to help the poor. Our students from Pre-K through high school, live out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
Solidarity – The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that solidarity is a “direct demand of human brotherhood.” With varying demographics of gender, culture, race, religion and economic status, we must work harder than ever to achieve solidarity.
It is fitting that solidarity is encouraged in our Catholic schools because we are able to learn more from our differences than our similarities. Our need to be unified as one human family is beautifully illustrated in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” Our church models, by our existence, the beautiful, diverse Body of Christ.
Joy in Going Forth – A memorable quote from Pope Francis is “Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.” Pope Francis advises us to venture out, not only into our communities, but also past the invisible walls of our own insecurities, prejudices and intolerance. He wants us to find the lasting contentment and peace in being with others for this is how we express our love for God.
“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.
When we allow ourselves to encounter Christ in others, show mercy and compassion, be unified with each other and go forth and make disciples of all nations, we insure our salvation and experience a lasting contentment, God’s unfailing grace and inner peace which is true, unending joy!
(Karla Luke is the Coordinator of Operations and Support Services for the Office of Catholic Education in the Jackson Diocese. She will continue this series on the Joy of the Gospel on page 3 in future editions of Mississippi Catholic.)