Addresses, Speeches, Homilies 1984

Eucharistic Celebration – Homily

SEPTEMBER 20,  1984

“Happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice...” (Mt 5,6) “Happy are the peacemakers” (Mt 5,9).

At the end of my pilgrimage on Canadian soil, in your capital city, Ottawa, in this Mass, we pray for justice and peace.

We pray for justice and peace in the contemporary world and we base our prayer on the Beatitudes of Christ according to the Gospel of Saint Matthew. We pray for peace, and the way to peace is through justice. That is why those who truly hunger and thirst for justice are at the same time peacemakers.

I would like the theme that focuses our prayer today in the context of the eucharistic sacrifice, to unite all those who participate in it, all those who are gathered by the thousands here at the foot of the splendid Gatineau Hills, by the banks of the Ottawa River, around His Grace Joseph Aurèle Plourde, Archbishop of your city. To His Grace, to all the residents of Ontario and of Canada and to all those who join us from afar, I extend my warmest greetings. This river was in the past the gateway to the heart of your continent, when European cultures initially came into contact with those of its first inhabitants. Today, I am among you as a pilgrim of peace and, in my last homily on Canadian soil, I would like to expand on everything I have said during my pastoral mission here. I would like to make a final synthesis based on the Eight Beatitudes of Christ.

In the Beatitudes, we encounter, first of all, a person: the Divine Master. It is of him that Isaiah speaks when he announces that a great light has shone on those who dwell in the land of deep shadow (cf. 9:1).

Those same words ring out on the night of Christmas: “For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulder”

The power laid on the shoulder of the Child born in the night of Bethlehem is confirmed by the majesty of the cross. The crucified one truly carries in himself the whole power of the redemption of the world.

And it is he, Christ crucified, whom Isaiah calls; “Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace” (9:5).

God forever confirmed the power of the crucified Christ when he raised him up. The redeemer, risen from among the dead, says to the apostles as he leaves them: “All power in heaven and on earth have been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations…” (Mt 28: 18-19).

Thus, Christ always remains in-the midst of humanity as this “great light” of Isaiah which shines “as those who dwell in the land of darkness”.

He remains the “Prince-of-Peace” and the “Wonder-Counsellor”. The way to justice and peace begins with the redemption of the world which Christ accomplished by the power of his cross and resurrection.

This is critical to remember at a time when human beings, when nations and all of humanity are desperately seeking the way to peace. “Genus humanum arte et ratione vivit”: Human beings live by wisdom, by culture and by morality. Violence is in complete contradiction to such a life. Violence creates the justifiable need for defence. And at the same time, violence threatens to destroy the sources of human life. Not only does it threaten to kill human beings, millions of men and women, but it threatens to destroy all that is human.

In the midst of this threatened human family, Christ continues to stand as the Prince of Peace, as the Defender of all that is human.

The Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is nothing other than a defence of what is most profoundly human, of what is most beautiful in human beings, of what is holy in them:

“How happy are the poor in spirit…

Happy the gentle…

Happy those who mourn…

Happy the merciful…

Happy the pure in heart…

Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right…

Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account…this is how they persecuted the prophets before you”.

The Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is a constant reaffirmation of what is most profoundly human, of what is heroic in human beings. The Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is firmly linked to the cross and the resurrection of Christ. It is only in the light of the cross and the resurrection that what is human and heroic in human beings will recover its strength and its power. No form of historic materialism can give it either a foundation or a warrant. Materialism can only question, diminish, trample underfoot, destroy, shatter that which is most profoundly human.

The Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is, at its very roots, tied to the Mystery, to the reality of the Redemption of the world.

Indeed the reality of the Redemption of the world is the sole basis for the Beatitudes, and more particularly of those two which are so very important amidst the dangers of our time:

“Happy those who hunger and thirst for justice…”

“Happy the peacemakers…”

Awareness of redemption touches in its depth the heart of those who are tormented by the threats now facing the world.

If we can accept the Gospel of the Beatitudes of Christ we will not be afraid to face up to these threats.

The moral conscience of humanity is discovering, by various means, the bond that exists between justice and peace. We should do everything necessary so that this consciousness, recovered at the price of immense sacrifice since World War II, will not be submerged anew by the spread of violence.

Contemporary men and women, nations, humanity, seek untiringly the ways which lead to justice and peace. Unceasingly the Church participates in this great task. Particular churches and episcopates share in this effort, as does the Holy See. It is a human, Christian and apostolic duty.

Pope John XXIII addressed a remarkable appeal to the world in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris. There he analyzed at length the conditions for peace, and he invited us to become artisans of peace and justice in all the spheres in which the human community acts.

In its turn, the Second Vatican Council, when it considers the place of the Church in the context of the modern world, again takes up this reflection; it asks us to safeguard peace and to build up the community of nations (Gaudium et Spes, II, V).

Pope Paul VI did not cease to act in that sense. To the General Assembly of the United Nations he issued this prophetic cry: “War never again”! He emphasized the links between peace and the development of peoples, of which I have spoken a few days ago in Edmonton. Paul VI also instituted the World Day of Peace on January 1. From that time on, at the beginning of each year, all are called to prayer and action for peace; it is the occasion for the Pope to renew his appeals to all people, so that they may opt for peace and take the necessary steps to overcome tensions and to dispel growing dangers.

Shortly after my election, I was able to answer the invitation of the United Nations and to assure the international community not only that the Apostolic See supports their efforts but that “the Catholic Church in every place on earth proclaims a message of peace, prays for peace, educates for peace” (Discourse to the 34th General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, October 2, 1979, No. 10).

Today, I renew my appeal. For, we know that, after the world war, tensions and confrontations have not ceased, that they provoke wars which, while localized, are no less murderous. And we know that the sources of the conflicts are found wherever injustice kills, or wherever the dignity of people is scoffed at. To build peace we must establish justice.

What moral conscience could resign itself, without reacting, when there exist “frightful disparities between excessively rich individuals and groups on the one hand, and on the other hand the majority made up of the poor or indeed of the destitute…” (ibid., No. 18)?

What moral conscience could resign itself to superficial arrangements which cover injustice, as long as somewhere on the planet man is wounded “in his most personal belief, in his view of the world, in his religious faith, and in the sphere of what are known as civil liberties” (ibid.. No. 19)?

Will we be peacemakers hungering for justice if we consent without reacting to “the breathtaking spiral of armaments…” presented as being “at the service of world peace” (ibid No. 22), while the arms race is a real threat of death and while its ecomonic cost deprives so many countries of the effective means for their development?

Our duty remains urgent at this time. We shall be peacemakers if our conscience makes us aware of the dangers, energetic to winning acceptance for dialogue and sharing, attentive to respecting the point of view of others at the same moment that we defend our own rights, faithful to love for humanity, and receptive to the Gift of God!

We shall be disciples of Christ and true brothers and sisters among ourselves if together we take our part in the thrust of civilization which for centuries has been in one direction: that of guaranteeing “the objective rights of the spirit, of human conscience and of human creativity, including man’s relationship with God” (ibid., No. 19). We shall be peacemakers if all our action is based on respect for the One who calls us to live according to the law of his Kingdom, and from whom all power comes (cf. Jn 19:11).

In this way, therefore, one cannot permit the moral conscience of humanity to give in to violence. It is necessary to maintain that close link which unites peace and justice, peace and the defense of the inviolable rights of individuals and of nations!

It is necessary to protect people from death – millions of people –from nuclear death and death from starvation. It is necessary to protect from death all that is human!

With this intention, today our prayer for justice and peace rests upon the Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes.

In a word what does this Gospel proclaim? Let us read it one more time:

“How happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.

Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.

Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.

Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.

Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.

Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called children of God.

Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account.

Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven”! (Mt 5:1-12).

Let us allow ourselves to be seized by the Spirit of Christ. May he fill us with the truth of these words, with the power of the love that inspires them! May our prayer enable us not only to seek peace, but to bring our will into harmony with the will of God as it is revealed to us by Christ. For peace among people will always be precarious if we are not at peace with God, if we do not conform ourselves in our most inner being to the plan of God for the history of the world. May our justice be the reflection of his justice! Recognizing our sinfulness, let us allow God to reconcile us with himself, the author of life, and, at the same time, with our brothers and sisters. This reconciliation, which we cannot fully realize by ourselves, we shall attain by grace if we faithfully unite ourselves to the immense supplication of those who pray.

In a word, then, what does the Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes proclaim?

It says that the poor in spirit, the gentle, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the peacemakers – all these are invincible! It says that the final victory belongs to them! To them belongs the Kingdom of Truth, of Justice, of Love and of Peace! May their weakness, their difficulty in surmounting what divides and opposes not deject them. Human forces are not enough to apply the Gospel, but the strength of Christ permits the purification and the conversion of hearts, for he gave himself so that humanity might possess his peace!

And it is this perspective which Christ by his Gospel and Redemption has truly opened up to those who practise his Beatitudes.

Hear me you, who in various parts of the world suffer persecution in the cause of Christ, you the poor suffering from oppression and injustice as if you were daily being ground into dust by those systems which crush humanity!

You all  who are truly people of goodwill!

We say that Christ is Wonder-Counsellor.

We say that Christ is Prince-of-Peace.

We say that Christ is the crucified and risen one.

“Dominion is laid on his shoulder”.

“Wide is His dominion…  for His royal  power which he

establishes and makes secure in justice and integrity”  (Is 9:6)

“Your kingdom come!”

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada