Mass for the World Day of Peace, 1st January 2023
St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, 11.00 am
Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell
An eol duit, a Mhuire,
Cá rachair i mbliana
Ag iarraidh foscaidh
Do do leanbh Naofa
Tráth bhfuil gach doras
Dúnta ina éadan
Ag fuath is uabhar
An chine daonna?
Do you know, O Mary,
Where you will go this year
For thy Holy Child,
When every door
Is closed in his face
By the hate and the pride
Of the human race?
The coldness and fear conveyed by Máirtín Ó Direán in the austere opening lines of his poem, Nollaig 1942—Christmas 1942, as war raged in continental Europe, and the Shoah began to gather pace, is not very distant from the fear and dread that few could have imagined this time last year. It is equally hard to imagine that more than 100 million people are forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations. The numbers of people seeking refuge today are of multiple of what they were in 1942 when the whole world was at war.
As we gather to pray on this World Day of Peace, we do so in a “world of fragile peace and broken promises”, with hundreds of thousands risking their lives to find a place of safety and peace. The reality that brought O Diréan’s poem to birth has not gone away. We gather against the backdrop of great international tensions: Ukraine, Lebanon, Yemen Ethiopia, Syria, Afghanistan and the changing situation in Palestine, to mention but some. We pray for peace when so many wars and conflicts rage for years bringing immense poverty, suffering and death for thousands of people, but these wars attract little or no attention. As many of you know, conflicts such as these cannot be solved by ad hoc arrangements; the require dialogue and structural change.
In his message for the World Day of Peace 2023, Pope Francis puts before us that there is light in the darkest hour. Taking our experience of the Covid pandemic, he continues: “The pandemic seems to have upset even the most peaceful parts of the world, and exposed any number of forms of fragility.” (par 2) This is not the post-Covid era we had hoped for or expected: “At every moment,” he says “when we dared to hope that the darkest hours of the Covid-19 pandemic were over, a terrible new disaster befell humanity. We are witnessing other wars and threats to peace, “driven by culpable human decisions.” (par 4) Daily we witness on our screens the suffering of so many people because of the imperialist, nationalistic and populist visions driven by despotic rulers, or ideologies which avoid addressing the hard questions of deep dignity and true freedom—and indeed their cost—by turning the neighbour into a threat to be overcome.
The grotesque war in Ukraine, and its blatant disregard for human life, the integrity of creation, and international law, is causing indescribable suffering for “innocent victims and spreading insecurity, not only among those directly affected, but in a widespread and indiscriminate way for everyone, also for those who, even thousands of kilometres away, suffer its collateral effects—we need but think of grain shortages and fuel prices” (par 4). The link between conflict and food insecurity is irrefutable.
When we pray for peace, for peace in our hearts, in our families and in our broken world, we realise how valuable peace is, how sought after. But we’re also aware of how rare and fragile true peace is. Peace is a gift to which one must attend. As a gift, it is not unlike a plant one might receive: it cannot be left there, it must be watered, it must be nourished, it demands attention. A year ago, the people of the Ukraine were living lives very much like our own. Like us, they knew the joy of a shared table, in the warmth of friends, in the joy of freedom from the daily grind. Little did they know that, within weeks, their world would be shattered by a cynical war, a war that continues today in the deadly cold of winter. A century ago, here in Dublin, this city, these very streets, were in the midst of a bitter civil war, one that sundered families and sowed lasting hatreds among former friends and comrades. The effects of shelling were evident all around this Cathedral. Those animosities survived the return of peace in 1923, and we know only too well how frequently and how easily they resurfaced in the century since. And even as we gather here in the Pro-Cathedral to mark this World Day of Peace on the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, we have to admit that, despite the outward appearances of peace, we too can carry within ourselves the sort of rancour and resentment that so easily ignite into anger, discord and conflict. Our country today may be blessed with the absence of war, but when we stop and reflect we may have to acknowledge that we are not necessarily at peace with ourselves and our neighbour. We still have work to do. We must always look within to see if the seeds of conflict still lie hidden in our hearts. We are what St Paul called his contemporaries: “faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Rom 1:31). We are especially mindful of those who are at war with their addictions, those whose struggles so often erupt into violence in the streets surrounding the Pro-Cathedral.
Peace demands constant work, constant vigilance. Building peace is a reality into which we must insert ourselves. Peace is a gift, but the work is ours. The conflict with darkness and its powers is not some conflict beyond ourselves: while very evident in conflict, the darkness also lurks in our hearts. As the experience of civil war and civil war politics have taught us over the past century, peace is constant vigilance and continual effort to build the just society that is the only sure foundation of real concord. The justice that is the bedrock of peace is not something cheap. On the contrary, the true justice that bring peace costs dearly in terms of forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, respect and understanding. It is a work constantly in progress and never completed. As Christians we believe that true peace, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, is the fruit of the harmony and justice planted by God in human society. But we are realistic enough to see that divinely inspired harmony remains a mere aspiration unless it is brought about and put into action by women and men who hunger and strive for justice. Women and men who are willing to pay for it with their time, talents and tenacity.
Making peace is not some job, something on which we can close the door at the end of our working day. Pacemakers can never rest on their laurels, not even in times of peace. Peace demands our ceaseless efforts, courage, endurance and our constant prayer. It demands an identifying and addressing of the deeper problems which erupt in aggression and violence. As one commentator observed, it involves combing through practical and emotional hurdles with thoroughness. It also demands that we remain open to a change of heart, not only that of our enemies, but of our own as well. We Christians believe that peace on earth, that peace proclaimed from heaven on the first Christmas, springs from our love of our neighbour, especially when our neighbour is not easy to love. Believers are often poor practitioners of the peace they proclaim, but nonetheless they know that it derives from the peace of Christ. On the cross Christ abolished hatred, and when he had been lifted on high in the resurrection, he poured out the Spirt into the hearts of all. It is that same Spirit who burns within us whenever we work, in care for the other, in service, when we strive for justice and peace.
This striving for justice and peace comes at a price. This was brought home to the whole country in the middle of Advent when the tragic and wanton death of Private Seán Rooney reached us. The shadow of death spread across a shocked land, that same shadow that has visited too many homes of Gardaí and other Emergency Services personnel. Peace is a gift that comes at a cost—a cost for those who care for peace and invest in it.
“An eol duit, a Mhuire…?” Do you know, O Mary? What does Mary know? Or, in the words of today’s gospel, what does she “treasure and ponder in her heart”? On this World Day of Peace, and the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, is she not the one who ponders first and foremost the Word of God, what the gospel calls, “the things of God.” (see Matt 16:23) So deep is her welcome that, through the power of the Spirit (see Luke 1:35), the Word itself takes flesh in her. She brings God to birth. She becomes the Mother of God
On this World Day of Peace, the journey is the journey that the Church puts before all people of good will. That the Peace of God, which is a peace build upon welcome, upon dignity and upon justice, must take flesh in us, before it can take root in the world. We are called to work for peace. We are called actively to pursue peace. Blessed are peacemakers, said Jesus. Blessed are those who go the second mile (see Matt 5:41), blessed are those who have compassion with the stranger, and blessed are those who work “to turn swords into ploughshares” (see Isa 2:4). Peace-making is an active process. Christ did not say, “blessed are those who receive peace!” But blessed are those who make peace.
Let us be inspired by Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who on the cross, subverted hatred, and became the way of true and enduring reconciliation. Let us immerse ourselves in his work. May the Holy Spirit who brought Christ to life in Mary, bring the Prince of Peace to life in us. May the Spirit strengthen us, and guide our feet on the way of peace (see Luke 1:79).
Archbishop of Dublin