Saturday, August 13, 2016

Utopia vs. True Peace: A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Twentieth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou

August 14, 2016

A few weeks ago I sat down to watch the 2014 rendition of Lois Lowry’s 1993 book entitled The Giver. I liked the movie, probably because I had read the book in my 6th grade English class and remember being fascinated by it. It falls into the genre of dystopian fiction…a futuristic world that tries to sell itself as utopian but is decidedly oppressive, repressive, totalitarian and ultimately, miserable. The overall plot of Lowry’s book and subsequent film centers around a medicinal injection that prevents people from having emotions, thus allowing government officials to create an egalitarian society that is objective and supposedly free of the chaos that emotions can bring. Furthermore, the collective memory of society as a whole has been stripped from the individual and rests in the mind of a single person known as the Giver. As the story unfolds, the Giver’s appointed successor begins to see through the sterilized and supposedly peaceful world he had been living in as he begins to encounter the full range of human experience through the Giver’s memories: color, music, love, and happiness, but also pain, misery, war, and death. He begins to recognize that the so-called “peace” of his society was merely a mirage, and that the cost of this mirage was the complete surrender of all that it means to be human. Despite how jarring it was for him to encounter pain and suffering, the prospect of a full human life was too beautiful for him to ignore, and by helping others to see the same he caused the downfall of their plastic society.  Like The Giver, many other books and movies have attempted to illustrate humanity’s struggle between war and peace, between fantasy and reality, and seeks to warn their audiences that attempts to thwart human nature and freedom for the sake of any other perceived good will always end in failure.

In our world today, the real world, as we look at everything going on around us, it’s easy to feel the burden of human existence and of human freedom. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings, the polarization and marginalization of peoples, the disintegration of family life, debilitating illness and disease, starving children, corrupt governments, and the list goes on and on. And as we get more and more angry and more and more fed up with the deprivation, and injustice, and cruelty that exists in our world, we can begin to create an irrational fantasy world in our minds. John Lennon became the poster boy for this with his 1971 hit Imagine. In order to “imagine all the people living life in peace,” Lennon had to rid his fantasy world of heaven, of hell, of countries, of religion, of possessions, and of freedom. In other words, Lennon’s peace came at a great price: truth and reality. As much as our desire for peace and our longing for it is good, we have to make sure that we don’t slip into the very grave mistake of confusing it with a utopia, and that we never suppress what is beautiful, true, or good to attain it.

In our Gospel today, Jesus makes the astonishing statement that He has not come to establish peace on earth. At first this sounds outrageous to us. Isn’t He the Prince of Peace? Does He not beckon us to be peace-makers? Did He not tell His Apostles on the night of His Resurrection that He gives and leaves us His peace? All of this is certainly true, but His words today call us to consider more deeply what peace is, what it means, and how it is attained. If we think that peace is the absence of strife, of pain, of war, of misery, of division, of conflict, etc., then we have no use for the peace that Christ brings to us. He did not come into our world to make it a better place, to rid us collectively of all that burdens our lives, to wipe out our famine and poverty and disease, or to set up a utopia for us to enjoy…He came into our world to become one with us in the midst of all this muck. He took on the frailty of our human flesh, the fickleness of our emotions, the agony of our loneliness, the very burden of our sinfulness, and bringing it all to the Cross, He took on death itself. And by rising from the dead, He gave us something concrete to hope for: not some weird forced peace in this world brought about by a charismatic social worker or community organizer, but the peace of the Kingdom of God attained by the Savior of the world. He has not come to establish peace on this earth, He has come to call us to the peace of heaven. And contrary to those who work for utopias in this life by abandoning reality – what is true, good, and beautiful – the peace of God’s kingdom, which comes to us as a gift from the suffering and crucified Christ, can only be attained by fully embracing what is true, and good, and beautiful. By taking on our flesh, Christ shows us that humanity is not something to be overcome, but something to be glorified. And He shows us with own human nature that mankind, when it is most true to itself and to its Creator, can be the most beautiful thing in the world.

So when Christ calls to you and to me and He beckons us to be peace-makers, He is not calling us to establish utopian peace on the earth, but to be living breathing signposts of the peace of His Kingdom: to evidence with our lives and our lips how to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves; how to love truth, and beauty, and goodness; how to be uncompromising in our faith and morals; how to embrace suffering as redemptive; how to sacrifice ourselves daily so as to be more and more conformed to our Savior; and how to look forward with longing hearts to the blessedness of the world to come. And when we do this, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that somehow everyone is just going to eat it up and love it…it will cause division, it will set people against each other, and we will be rejected. Peace is more than everyone getting along and having a good time…peace, true peace, is the salvation of mankind in Jesus Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that peace is the necessary and sure fruit of love. When we know that we are loved by God, when we love Him in return, and when we love those whom He loves, we are given an earthly foretaste of the peace of heaven. Let us ask our good God for the grace to strive for this every moment of every day, that we may be true signposts in this life of His true and everlasting peace.

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