Grace, Mercy, and Peace- Reflection for Mass of September 11, 2009

11 Sep

Friday, September 11, 2009
Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-14; Psalm 16:1-2a, 3-5a, 6-7; Luke 6:39-42

St. Paul begins his first letter to Timothy by wishing three gifts from God- “Grace, mercy, and peace”- upon his friend and legate in Ephesus. (1) This salutation resembles a phrase often used by Paul to initiate his letters. One of the opening greetings of the Mass follows the same formula: “The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (2) However, here Paul adds the word ‘mercy’ in between ‘grace’ and ‘peace’. This exact expression appears in only one other place in the Pauline letters- in his second epistle to Timothy. (3)

Mercy is emphasized as a medium by which grace takes effect as peace. In Biblical terms, “petitioning for mercy [meant] the same as asking for salvation.” (4) Our salvation- eternal peace- is possible only because our God is merciful toward us. Thus, through mercy, grace and peace meet. God is a font of mercy, grace, and peace, but He also wills for us to disseminate these gifts in our world. Our vocation must therefore be one of mercy; just before the start of today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we are commissioned to “be merciful, as [our] Father is merciful.” (5)

Unfortunately, we live in a world appallingly lacking at times in mercy toward our fellow human beings. Eight years have passed since the September 11, 2001 attacks, acts as antithetical to mercy as is possible. Perhaps as sadly, these events have begotten yet more fear, more violence, and more bloodshed. This was evident to me not only in North America, but in France, where divisions have deepened between Muslims and non-Muslims. The year after 9/11 was my first time living outside North America, on a student exchange that began with my arrival in Paris on September 11, 2001.

The kind of violence that brings about the horror of 9/11, prejudice, terrorism, war, and the concurrent displacement of people, is learned; Jesus reminds us that “a disciple is not above the teacher.” (6) We condition ourselves over time not to see our own more glaring faults, but to focus on even smaller errors of others. (7) Scripture proposes a solution to this problem: we are able to and we must open ourselves to the mercy of God and of each other, and to “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” (8) instead of acting “ignorantly in unbelief.” (9) That entails the recognition of our own faults for what they are and prayer for and action in a spirit of forgiveness toward our neighbour.

Penitential living is St. Paul’s model for Timothy and for us. Paul’s sudden conversion did not immediately make him perfect, but, as shown in today’s letter to Timothy and elsewhere in Scripture, he was able to recognize his faults and his dependence on Divine mercy. (10) Thus Paul teaches us by example to be grateful to our Lord “who has strengthened [us]” (11) for our Christian calling as ambassadors of grace, of mercy, and of peace.

Let us then pray for an end to the blasphemy of violence in our world, especially under the guise of religion, for its victims, and also for its perpetrators. Let us live lives of repentance and forgiveness. We ask for peace in our world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

WRS

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4 Responses to “Grace, Mercy, and Peace- Reflection for Mass of September 11, 2009”

  1. canadiancatholicblog September 10, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Notes:

    (1) 1 Timothy 1:2
    (2) Living with Christ, Vol. 15 No. 9. Novalis: September 2009, 4.
    (3) cf. 2 Timothy 1:2
    (4) The Navarre Bible New Testament, Notes on 1 Timothy 1:2. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 795.
    (5) Luke 6:36
    (6) Luke 6:40
    (7) cf. Luke 6:41
    (8) 1 Timothy 1:14
    (9) 1 Timothy 1:13
    (10) cf. especially Romans 7:14- 8:4
    (11)1 Timothy 1:12

    WRS

  2. jonolan September 11, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    It’s good to pray for peace. But stay out of the way while those of us who do not forgive those who wronged us and those who supported and continue to support them create that peace for you.

    When our enemies and any who supported them actively or tacitly are exterminated and their names stricken from history and geography, then we’ll present you with a perfect peace in safety.

    • canadiancatholicblog September 11, 2009 at 11:34 am #

      Thank you, jonolan, for your comment, although I disagree with what you’ve written here.

      “It’s good to pray for peace.”

      Indeed it is, but prayer is not so much about idly waiting for violence in the world to disappear miraculously; all Christian prayer, and other faiths likely share this outlook, has an active component. A Christian must pray and work simultaneously for peace, which is part of the common good.

      “But stay out of the way while those of us who do not forgive those who wronged us and those who supported and continue to support them create that peace for you.”

      Peace cannot be had without forgiveness. As hard a teaching as it is, Jesus said: “Love your enemies [and] do good to those who hate you.” (Lk. 6:27) This does not mask the fact that there are people in our world who are evil and hateful, who reject and blaspheme and kill others just because of who they are. The 9/11 hijakers acted out of hatred for America and her people and allies, and they are hardly alone in singling out an enemy for destruction and to sow panic among them. Think of the current situations in Darfur or the Congo. These people, along with those killed and bereaved, need our active prayer more than anyone else.

      Not to be naïve, but occasionally this kind of action works more quickly than expected. The diplomacy of ex-Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), who stepped between two stubborn and violent foes, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland, leading to the “Good Friday” Belfast Peace Agreement in 1998 is an illustration of my point.

      “When our enemies and any who supported them actively or tacitly are exterminated and their names stricken from history and geography, then we’ll present you with a perfect peace in safety.”

      This will never be the way to peace, but merely the way of returning tit-for-tat what has been done to us. Peacemaking must be compassionate in the proper sense of the word, “to suffer with.” Jesus again showed this in His lament over Jerusalem: “I have come to set the earth on fire… Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Lk. 12:49, 51) Our chronic lack of peace is a source of suffering; as long as we are human and fallen. (cf. Genesis 3:15-19) True and everlasting peace cannot be given from this world. But we have a duty to work toward peace, which will not come by violent or purely militaristic means, but by mercy, patience, and hard work.

      WRS

  3. jonolan September 11, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    With a few rare exceptions all those who will respond to mercy, patience, and hard work already have done so and are at peace within themselves. The ones that are left, such as the attackers in Darfur, and the Muslim world cannot be dealt with by the methods you suggest, or at least I see no evidence of it.

    Those sorts need to dealt with by my kind. We can present you with a peace that will last and, if it costs me and mine our souls so be it as long as we can drag each and every enemy to Hell with us.

    Keep praying. I keep preying ;)

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