The Sunday Propers: Seeking Peace

What makes Christianity different from the world?  Is it belief in a higher power?  Though the world is reluctant to admit it, everyone believes in a higher power, even if they don’t call it God.  Is it what we believe?  If you go throughout other religions and cultures, you can find beliefs relatively similar to that of Christianity, even if they differ on some important points.  Many Eastern religions have a monastic and aesthetic life similar to Christianity, Islam offers similar views on family and life issues, etc.

I would say the defining characteristic of Christianity is not in what we do, but in what we choose not to do.  The true hallmark of a Christian is not to trust in God when we are getting everything that is due to us, but in committing ourselves to God when that doesn’t happen.  Christ’s divinity wasn’t proven when he worked miracles.  The outside world mostly yawned at this.  Anyone can work wonders.  When Christ was nailed to the cross, this is when His divinity was made manifest.  He deserved the worship of the entire world, and instead they nailed him to a cross.  Justice mandated that Christ call down legions of angels to stop this.  At the very least, call down a messenger of God to show the world what they were doing was wrong.  Instead, Christ forgives those who nailed him to the cross.  When he died, people who witnessed it returned home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48) and even pagans recognized that Christ was who He claimed to be.  (Luke 23:47)

Keeping with this sentiment, the Epistle for Sunday tells us to be at peace with all men, and if we cannot (and this is what is most important!) to swear off vengeance as a result of that discord.  This message is as hard for modern ears to hear as it was for Roman ears.  One of the cornerstones of law is that of vengeance.  If there was no need for vengeance, then we would have no law, only a bunch of pious platitudes.  Law exists because someone has been wronged, and the situation must be made right.  Left to our own devices, the desire for revenge is one of the most natural desires there is, and it’s not necessarily an evil one.  We have been wronged, and the situation should be set right.

We defer that revenge because such deferral is the ultimate proof that we believe God will “look mercifully upon our weakness: and stretch forth the right hand of Thy Majesty to protect us. “  (Collect)  There are times where this is understood as “don’t carry out revenge individually, but don’t worry, God will carry it out for us.”  While the possibility of punishment of those who wrong us does indeed exist, can we be absolved from seeking vengeance by subcontracting it out to God?  God wants every thought of revenge, whoever commits it, to be driven from our minds.  In place of that thought of revenge should be a thought of charity and peace; just as it is with those who do us right.

In doing so, St. Paul teaches that we will heap “coals of fire” upon their head.  Bearing in mind the forswearing off of even the thought of vengeance, what is the purpose of these coals of fire?  Most importantly, such coals are hot.    If you let burning coals continually rest upon your head, eventually you will be injured and hurt by them.  The sting of the coals should make you change by getting out of the way of the coals.  Our kindness is meant to cause people to think.  Why are they still being nice in spite of all of this?  How come I’m never as nice?  Why am I not always seeking peace like they are, and why are they happier than I am because of it?  Those hot coals are meant to be a warning to them, to make them change their life.

This is a message valid for everyone today, but especially for those of us attached to the Latin Mass.  It is no longer debatable that over the years, we have suffered injustices by the Church.  These injustices have come at the hands of our fellow Catholics, priests, bishops, cardinals, and yes, even popes.  Benedict and John Paul both admitted as such.  During that time of injustice, we may have wished God to take vengeance upon them.  When we see many of these prelates who tormented us having to deal with a fractured and factional Church in decline, the temptation is there to feel a sense of “serves them right.”  This feeling is natural, and we have it for a reason.  We’ve been wronged; it is only natural to delight when those who view us enemies have trouble.

God calls us to something bigger.  Instead, He calls us to continue doing what we have always done.  Continue holding to tradition.  Continue building your family.  Continue building your community.  As we do it, people will start to notice, and hopefully their own disposition towards us will be changed due to the hot coal of our fidelity.   As we continue to grow, we find in our ranks those who were once opposed to us, and many were persuaded by that fidelity more than any intellectual argument we could give them.

As uncomfortable as this sentiment might be, we might as well get used to it:  it isn’t optional.  The Postcommunion asks God “to make us, who of Thy bounty frequent such great Mysteries, truly disposed to profit by them.”  If we don’t allow God’s grace to transform us, this gift we receive every Sunday (or more frequently!) won’t do anything.  The sacraments (especially the Eucharist) make a life of non-vengeance possible.  With each reception of every sacrament, we are brought deeper into the life of the one who had the power to execute vengeance against humanity, but chose instead forgiveness.  He expects us to do the same.


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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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