Januray 1, 2006 [B]

Fr. Charles Irvin

Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

The signs of our times are filled with many conflicting signals; many would say only bad signals. I use the phrase conflicting signals because I see signs of hope amid all of the bad news that floods our daily news reports. Oh, to be sure, there are terrorist bombings and assassinations, battered children, senseless murders, and the ever-present threat of nuclear destruction. But I’m not so sure Armageddon is shortly away.

There is a wise old saying among gurus in India that goes like this: “For the forest to be green, the trees must be green.” I think a lot of people are coming to apply this saying to world peace, to peace within our nation, and to peace within our families. They are seeing that we cannot give peace to the world or to others unless we as individuals have peace within our hearts, unless we ourselves are peace-full persons.

There are a lot of people who are not simply praying and wishing for peace, but who are working for it – even putting their lives on the line for it. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of prayer. It is essential to pray. It is essential to receive within our hearts a peace which only God can give and which the world cannot give. If we are not a peace with God, if we are riddled with guilt and feelings of unworthiness, then we will only take our inner anger on others. People with unresolved sin, people filled with guilt, go out and try to make others feel the same way. They look for company – misery always does.

The fundamental peace with which we must all begin with in order to shape our wold is peace with God. It is something that the world cannot give. For others to be peaceful with us we must first be at peace with God. Peace must dwell in our hearts. If you look at the titles of books on bookstore shelves you will see that. For peace is not merely the absence of conflict, it is the presence of God’s gifts within us. Without the Spirit of God dwelling within us, peace will be impossible.

As we begin this new year I would like to suggest three resolutions for your consideration: (1) substitute compassion for competition; (2) substitute sharing for winning; (3) substitute understanding for prejudging other.

COMPASSION FOR COMPETITON: Compassion is a word that means “to suffer with.” It’s the opposite of comparing ourselves with others. Compassion puts you on the same level with others. When a compassionate person sees someone suffering he says to himself: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Compassion goes beyond sympathy and puts you at the side of one who is suffering from misfortune, prejudice, or oppression. The world admires those who are at the top of the heap. It regards the compassionate only with a distant admiration. And yet, when we think about it, doesn’t it take a lot more personal strength of character to be compassionate than to be someone who made it to the top of the heap?

SHARING FOR WINNING: The way of the world is that the winner takes all. What is overlooked is that the winner is what he or she is at the top of the heap at the expense of others. And what does the winner end up with? The loneliness of being alone at the top, the isolation of being the only one there. He or she will be surrounded in the fawning adulation of those who are the lesser ones. Who will be close friends? Who will be the equals? He or she will only have admirers. What sort of victory is that? What sort of peace does that give his or her soul? To be a sharer is much better than to be a winner who takes all. Sharers live in peace with each other. Winners are targets.

UNDERSTANDING FOR PREJUDICE: Prejudiced people have judged ahead of time without giving others a break. Prejudice puts others in a neat little box, a nice pre-conceived category. And it keeps them locked up in there. Understanding, however, is the willingness to “stand-under” another – to bear their weight on your shoulders, to feel what they feel and to share their cares and concerns. Understanding gives us a whole new knowledge of another, knowledge quite different from prejudice, a knowledge that leads to peace instead of violence.

For the forest to be green, the trees must be green. For the world to be peaceful we must be a people who stand in Jesus’ shoes and who are individually filled with God’s peace, a peace which this world cannot give.

Competitiveness offers us this world’s prizes. Competitiveness, not shared commonality, is the driving energy of our society. Being “Number One” and better than others seduces us into thinking that we will then be happy. It is not that way with Jesus Christ, God’s expression of Himself in our humanity. Jesus gave up distinctions and dividing lines, those things that prevent us from living in solidarity with each other. God emptied Himself into us. He obliterated the dividing lines and became one of us in our own broken and poor humanity.

I leave you now with a quote from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, the beginning of the second chapter:

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, 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. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

May you, during this year of 2006, live in the fullness of God’s presence, power, and peace.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”