- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories ~ Who Are We To Be? A Church of Love and Peace
Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you…. Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
One of the formative experiences of my life and priesthood was several years of involvement in weekend retreats for married couples. At the core of these retreats was the awareness that enrichment of relationships depended on constant communication within couples, from the heart. Deciding to do this as a couple honoured a principle – love is a decision.
Often we think of love as an emotion. To see love as a decision is to require an explicit commitment in any relationship. When such a principle is accepted and acted upon it has the possibility of building a relationship that is marked by peace, harmony and mutual respect. In the long term, such a relationship whether for a couple or a community or our world is what we all long for. It only becomes a reality, when we are able to make the decision to love. And this requires a commitment to the other. It is not a feeling, it is a decision.
Understanding love in this way helps us to grasp and make sense of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt.5:43-45). Love that is a decision moves beyond the emotional to conscious efforts to follow the disciple’s path offered by Jesus’ call. It nurtures relationships, building peace and harmony.
As John in his Gospel, tells the story of Jesus and his disciples we discover the significance of relationships for the disciples of Jesus. Before his death and resurrection, Jesus reflects on his departure from them (John 14:23-29). As he does so, Jesus reassures them in two ways. First, his vision is that they not be troubled or fearful. He wants his disciples to be at peace, in their own hearts and with one another.
The second reassurance is his promise that the Father will not leave them alone or abandoned. God will gift them with “the Advocate”. The Spirit of God will be with them always. With this Spirit, Jesus will continue to be among them, guiding and supporting them as they carry on his message and mission.
In 2015-16 Pope Francis, moved by the Spirit, launched our church on a journey to discover the peace of heart and peace with others that is Jesus’ vision for disciples. The focus Francis took was to lead us away from commands, rules and judgement, to see ourselves as a church of mercy.
One the images he turned to was the church as a “field hospital”. Our church is to be out among the struggles and challenges of our world, responding to the physical, social, economic and moral needs of all humanity. It is to reach out in particular to the lost and the excluded, the outcasts, the suffering, the wounded and the hurting. Such openness and outreach builds the peace for which we all long. It reveals the peace that is Jesus’ blessing for all: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Living such relational faith, is the role of the disciple, building the Reign of God among all humanity.