Have you tried to understand the gruesome killing of concert attendees in Las Vegas? So many unanswerable questions: What was the motive for the taking innocent lives? Why didn’t someone notice something about the killer in time? How in the world did the killer get so many sophisticated guns and ammo into a hotel room undetected? What did he gain by unleashing such terror on others? Did their death and anguish bring any relief to his own pains?
There are so many things that we cannot explain or understand about such evil in our times. The fact that we cannot also predict these evils or avoid them adds to our fears. Our future appears both uncertain and scary. How can we ever find peace in such a chaotic world with violence that we cannot predict, avoid, or understand?
St. Paul writes to the conflict-ridden Philippian community about a mysteriously unique peace that “surpasses all understanding” even in the tense community. There are three things that lead to such a peace.
First, there is constant and honest prayer that establishes a living contact with God and draws us deeper into relationship with Him, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Our external condition may not be changed by such prayer but the love and confidence that such honest and persistent prayer engenders in us opens our hearts to the God of peace, “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Secondly, this peace must be guarded by the thoughts that we let into our minds and hearts. We must be vigilant about our thoughts if we are going to preserve that unexplainable peace of God that comes from our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. In the words of St. Paul, “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, of any excellence, and worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Lastly, relationship with God and good, true and beautiful thoughts must lead to action that is in accord with the divine will. St. Paul ends by saying, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” We must choose carefully whom we decide to imitate in this life if our peace is going to be deep and abiding in today’s chaotic world. Our personal models in life will determine our peace of mind.
There is a strong temptation today to seek for our peace from having and enjoying everything we want and having things the way that we want them without any fear of losing it all. We futilely search for peace by trying to protect ourselves from all forms of evil. The bitter truth is that we are always vulnerable to one form of evil or another whether they are natural or man-made. No matter how much we have or achieve or enjoy in this life, we can never find deep, lasting peace because the world’s evils are unavoidable, unpredictable, and unexplainable.
We enter into that mysterious inner peace when we do not allow anything or person come between us and our relationship with God. This peace is ours when not even our sins or our sufferings in this life can quench our relationship with God in the slightest degree. In addition, our relationship with God so “guards our minds and hearts in Christ” that we constantly examine our thoughts and “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.”(2Cor 10:5) Lastly, we choose to imitate Jesus Christ alone with the help and example of those who followed Him perfectly like the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.
Today’s Gospel tells of the tenants who receive everything that they needed from the landowner to bear fruit – an already planted vineyard with a hedge around it, a dug winepress and a tower. We just cannot explain their ingratitude to the landowner and their violent behavior towards the servants sent by the landowner to get the produce, “They seized the servants, one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.” The landowner eventually sent his son, not to receive the produce as other servants were sent to do, but to bring the wicked tenants to some form of reverence and to re-start their relationship with him, “He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’” In killing the son, the tenants reject any relationship with the landowner and thus they lose everything, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.”
The tenants had everything that they could ever want even in their infidelity but they lost it all the moment that they refused to be reconciled to the landowner in and though his son and to renew their relationship with him. A similar things happens to us: no matter how much we have we can never find deep and lasting peace in this unpredictable world without being in a relationship with God and allowing that relationship to change the way that we think and act.
Jesus comes to us first and foremost to bring us into relationship with the Father by His grace. He alone transforms our minds and moves us to act in a new way that is patterned on His way of acting. This is how He offers us a mysterious inner peace in a chaotic world, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves?”(Mt 11:29)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are letting the unpredictable, unexplainable and unpreventable events of our chaotic world deprive us of the unexplainable peace of God from within, we need to ask ourselves some questions:
How deep and true is my relationship with God today? What am I letting to get between me and God? What sin am I clinging to today because I am ashamed or reluctant to let go of it? What person or thing am I depending on and letting to control my life as if it were a god? What suffering is killing my hope today? Is my relationship with God on His own terms and standards or by mine own terms and standards?
How honest is my prayer life? Do I hide things from God in prayer because I think that He does not care or cannot do anything about it? What hurtful memories of my past have I refused to bring to my prayer? What desires and imaginations am I too ashamed to bring to prayer? How does my fear of being condemned block my openness to God and His love for me?
Can I speak to Jesus with all honesty about my deepest thoughts, feelings, desires, plans, dreams, fantasies, imaginations, etc.? How are my thoughts? Do I give room to and entertain every thought that enters my mind? Are my thoughts about God rooted in His revelation to me or are they based on my feelings alone or my wishful thinking? Do I think evil of others? Do I let impure and judgmental thoughts to remain in my mind?
Who am I imitating today? Do I have a patron saint with whom I connect with and try to imitate?
In a world of senseless and inexplicable violence that tends to kill our peace, our God is offering us a peace that is beyond explanation in His Son Jesus Christ. It all begins with a new relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a new way of thinking, desiring and valuing things and life patterned on that of Jesus in our words and actions.
Our Eucharistic Lord, the Prince of Peace, comes to us today in this world where our inner peace is constantly threatened by violence that we just cannot explain, avoid or predict. We are like tenants who cannot claim to have produced fruit abundantly despite all that we have been given. But Jesus comes not to demand fruit from us but first and foremost to renew and strengthen our relationship with God, to reconcile us with the Father and shape our ways of thinking and acting. If we begin to pray honestly and sincerely, thinking only what is true, good and beautiful, and acting as Jesus did, we shall always have an abiding peace in this world that we just cannot explain because the God of peace will truly be with us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.