Bishop Patrick J. McGrath gave the following homily, Sept. 7, 2013, at the Diocese of San Jose Vigil for Peace in Syria, held in St. Joseph Cathedral Basilica.
I am told that our universe is believed to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 billion years old. So, this morning the Sun rose one more time on the unfolding drama of human history in an ancient universe.
Yet, at the beginning of this new day, foreboding grips us more and more as the realization takes hold that our nation is moving once more towards war.
Once again, we stand at the brink of military action — the far-reaching results of which cannot be known in advance.
It is necessary to also state clearly that President Assad has committed a gravely immoral act in his aggression against his own people. This aggression cannot, now or ever, be morally justified.
Now we hear the cry for justice, the call to “send a message,” to make our meaning clear.
We have powerful weapons, true, but they are weapons, even we, dare not deploy. And so those who govern must choose from that vast arsenal. What selection will be made?
What if the choice were to pursue another path? One of persuasion and of peace!
Perhaps in today’s world, “peace” is an unnatural selection, yet it is the way of the wolf and the lamb, of the leopard and the goat, the calf and the lion…and the child leading them… leading us.
Too often, the decisions to go to war or not are made in purely political terms, which, of course, is the realm of politicians. But what of the personal, the human? How many innocent lives may be lost? How many will be dragged into battle or, God forbid, war without end?
Tonight, at the bidding of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and in spiritual communion with him and others around the world, we have gathered on a day of penance – fasting and prayer – to storm heaven with prayers for peace.
But it is not God we are trying to convince or “win over.” No, we are hoping that the hearts of people of good will might become attuned with the heart of God, who is Peace?
Saint Francis of Assisi once attempted to bring a peaceful resolution to the Fifth Crusade in 1219, not as the warrior he had once been, but this time as a practitioner of Gospel nonviolence. He said: “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” Francis also instructed in these words: “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
I will always remember that stunning moment on Oct. 4, 1965 when with millions of Americans, and indeed the whole world, I watched the simple, slightly bent, cassocked figure of Paul VI move to the podium at the United Nations to address the leaders of all the nations of the world. None of us should/could ever forget what he said on that occasion:
“It is enough to remember that the blood of millions of men and women, that… numberless and unheard of sufferings, useless slaughter and frightful ruin, are the sanction of the covenant which unites you in a solemn pledge which must change the future history of the world: No more war, war never again! Peace, it is peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”
Just last Sunday, Pope Francis echoed this plea, addressing the present situation in Syria. He said: “I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of the many children who will not see the light of the future!
“With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions, which is inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.
“With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict.
“With similar vigor I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.”
So, tonight on the vigil of the Birth of the Queen of Peace, we pray that, with the One whom she bore, we may hear always the words and ponder the will of the Father, so as to live in God’s peace — in our lives, in our homes and in our world.
May God hear and answer our prayers. Amen.