MASS FOR WORLD PEACE
HOMILY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
National Stadium of Bangkok (Thailand)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. It is our privilege as members of the Church to gather around the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and to partake of his Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This privilege is also a duty; following from the Lord’s command to his Apostles on the night before he suffered and died: "Do this in memory of me". Joined together in this Eucharistic assembly we find our identity as Catholics, since it is here that our union with Christ, as individuals and as a community, finds its most sublime expression: we are linked to Christ our Redeemer in his perfect act of praise, in his total self-sacrifice to the Father.
There can be no more appropriate gathering at the beginning of my visit to your country, dear Catholics of Thailand, than for us to join together in the name of Christ and to celebrate together this memorial of our Redemption. It is important for you to gather every Sunday in this way, for at Mass you discover over and over again your source of unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, closely bound one to another. You may form a small part of the population of your country and be a small flock of Christ’s followers, but Christ the Good Shepherd cares for you and watches over you with a special love. And as you join your hearts and minds to Christ in this Sacrifice, you are at the same time spiritually united with the whole Church of Christ, the universal assembly of believers, both living and dead, that constitutes the one Body of Christ.
2. As a Church you are constantly presented with the unique opportunity of reflecting on the mysterious nature of Divine Providence, which chooses you to hear Christ’s message and to bear witness to God’s love made manifest in the person of Jesus our Saviour. What kind of world is it in which God calls you to witness to Christ? One aspect of it was indicated to us by your Cardinal at the beginning of this Liturgy. You have the privilege of living in a Kingdom whose citizens enjoy religious freedom, where men and women are free to worship God according to the dictates of an upright conscience. For this situation - which corresponds to a universal right of all people - I join you in thanking God.
Added to this, you find yourselves in a world where the majority of your fellow citizens embrace Buddhism, that complex of religious beliefs and philosophical ideas which is rooted in Thai history, culture and psychology, and which profoundly influences your identity as a nation. To a certain extent one can say then that as people of Thailand you are heirs of the ancient and venerable wisdom contained therein.
3. How can you as Christians, members of the Catholic Church, who recognize Christ as the Saviour of the world, respond to Christ’s call of discipleship, living, as you do, immersed in a religious environment different from your own?
Sacred Scripture gives insights for an answer to this question. The second reading from the Letter of Saint James speaks of an earthly wisdom which is opposed to "the wisdom from above", which is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. Your cultural heritage as Thai people is intimately linked to the indigenous Buddhist tradition, which provides a fertile terrain for the seed of God’s word, proclaimed by Jesus Christ, to take root and grow. In the practice of Buddhism can be discerned a noble tendency to strive to separate oneself from an "earthly wisdom", in order to discover and achieve an interior purification and liberation. This aim is pursued through prayer and meditation, coupled with the practice of moral virtue. As the Second Vatican Council so clearly pointed out, the Church looks with sincere respect upon the religious wisdom contained in non-Christian traditions and rejects nothing that is true and holy in them (Cf. Nostra Aetate, 2). The fruits of a "peaceable" and "gentle" wisdom are manifestly evident in the Thai character and are esteemed and respected by those who have the good fortune to meet you and come to know this spiritual quality within you.
4. As Thai people who are marked with the sign of Christian faith, you come to know this wisdom fully through the person and message of Jesus Christ. His wisdom is explained for you, and for all believers, in the Eight Beatitudes which Christ himself proclaims in today’s Gospel. These Beatitudes tell of God’s favour towards those who aspire to live under his rule.
The acceptance of this teaching of Jesus as a way of life is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, that Spirit "poured upon us from on high" (Is. 32, 15)which radically transforms the human heart and soul. The outpouring of the Spirit brings about the transformation of all creation, producing a condition wherein all can enjoy true happiness, the happiness of those who are truly "blessed". In this way we understand that wisdom is not primarily a human achievement: wisdom comes from God, and it then reveals itself in a good life.
5. The Christian life is lived through faith in the redeeming power of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ; it is the response of those who sincerely desire to follow the way of the Gospel outlined by the Beatitudes. How does this wisdom revealed by Christ manifest itself in the lives of those who experience the redeeming power of his Cross and Resurrection? Again our scriptural readings offer us light for meditation. Pre-eminent among the fruits which come from above is the gift of peace, the theme of today’s liturgy and the intention for which we offer this Mass. In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah we learn that peace will be the effect of righteousness. But it will come about only if the Spirit is "poured upon us from on high".
The whole Church is committed to praying for peace, to praying for that gift of God and to doing so in the most effective way possible: by participating in Christ’s perfect offering of himself as he intercedes for us with his heavenly Father. In the Eucharist we are made aware of our responsibility as Christians to pray constantly, especially as a community of faith, so that we may receive Christ’s gift of peace as the family of God gathered in the presence of the Father.
Our responsibility to pray for the gift of peace does not exempt us from the duty of taking positive, concrete action in working for peace. I speak here of the peace that comes from justice and love of neighbour and which is linked to the peace of Christ that comes from God. Our commitment to peace means resisting temptations to violence; it involves the constant mastery of the passions, respect for the dignity of others, compassion, meekness, and all those qualities which flow from a heart that is configured to the image of the heart of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Here too, as people who are enriched by the Buddhist tradition of your country, you are endowed with a special sensitivity to the renunciation of violence in the vindication of personal rights, and so the Lord’s injunction to be peacemakers strikes a resonant chord in your minds and hearts, helping you not to fall victim to the many temptations to violence that haunt the world.
6. From this perspective we can better understand the meaning of Saint James’ words: "The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (Iac. 3, 18). How can this happen? It takes place in the Christian by his or her acceptance of the way of life outlined by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. This programme is the new wisdom that comes from above and remains in sharp contrast to the wisdom of this world. It is opposed by materialism and hedonism.
The Beatitude "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" takes on particular relevance in this context. The true peacemaker is one who not only renounces the use of violence as the normal course of action, but who also has the courage to combat the enemies of peace. The peacemaker struggles, not with physical weapons or against another individual or nation, but against that selfishness, in all its forms, which impedes us from seeing others as brothers and sisters in the one human family. He fights against indifference or apathy in the face of poverty, pain or suffering, for in the Christian vision of human life these conditions neither justify fatalism nor are they signs of being accursed. Rather, they lead us to our Redemption when they are joined to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our saving Lord, whose innocent suffering remains forever a sign of hope for all humanity.
7. Brothers and sisters in Christ: in every celebration of the Eucharist, Christ renews that gift which he made of himself, as Mediator and Reconciler, reuniting the scattered children of God, in order to bring the gift of peace to the entire human family. In the Mass Christ becomes our peace. And it is Jesus Christ our peace whom we desire to offer to the world.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Lord, grant us your peace!
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