High in the Andes Mountains, 14,000 feet above sea level, stands a majestic statue of Jesus on the border of Argentina and Chile. It was constructed to celebrate the peaceful resolution of a border dispute between the two countries. In fact, the metal for the statue comes from guns the two nations had intended to use against each other. An inscription at the base of the statue reads: “He is our peace who has made both one.” This famous statue serves as a sign of the peace that the Son of God came to bring. We know that the risen Jesus greeted his friends by saying, “Peace be with you!” We might understand his words, however, as being intended for the whole world.
The truth is, Jesus wants peace amongst nations, within societies, and between people. Conflict, warfare, and division were not part of his Father’s plans for us. God created us to live in harmony with him and with each other. But when sin entered the picture, everything got fouled up.
That’s one lesson we take away from the story of the Tower of Babel, in our first reading. People, acting with sinful pride, attempted to displace God by constructing a tower into the heavens. And the results were disastrous! Humanity became scattered and divided- a division symbolized by the confusion of their language. Because they couldn’t understand each other anymore, chaos ensued, and there was no peace.
That kind of describes the situation today, doesn’t it? Our world is divided by culture, faith, wealth, and even more by attitudes towards power, authority, and cooperation. As a result, we experience a lack of peace.
Thankfully, God hasn’t left us to flounder in the mess we’ve made. He saw the situation, and he sent us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to bring people together in peace. At that first Pentecost, the disciples proclaimed the good news of Jesus, everyone understood what they were saying- regardless of what language they spoke. The curse of the Tower of Babel was undone! The Holy Spirit, then and now, heals the divisions created by human pride and sin, by allowing people to communicate and understand each other once again.
Pentecost is traditionally referred to as the “Church’s birthday,” because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit marked the beginning of the Church’s mission to bring all people together in peace by being united in God. You and I participated in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and you and I are members of the Church. This means we have a responsibility to share in the Church’s mission by being agents of peace. To fulfill this mission, our recent popes have suggested several things we can do.
First of all, we can resist the pressures of our materialistic culture to possess more and more and to consume things at levels that ultimately deprive others. A world divided into “haves” and “haves not” is a world that will inevitably experience tensions and war. As Christians, we should strive to live simply, so that others may simply live. One way to do this is by being good stewards of the world’s resources and taking care of the environment. As Pope Benedict recently said, “Disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men.”
Another thing we can do to be peacemakers is to learn to be good communicators. As John Paul II said, “Language is made…for uniting.” We need to honestly but gently share our thoughts and feelings with others, seeking to be understood without resorting to threats or insults. At the same time, we can strive to really listen to others by giving our full attention and respect, and if they yell at us, we need to try to understand what might be the cause of their hurt.
Being a good communicator is never enough, however. The language of peace must be matched by gestures of peace. “It is the practice of peace that leads to peace,” to again quote John Paul II. We can strive to be forgiving, gentle, and generous. We can reject old rivalries, hatreds, and prejudices that history or our culture may try to impose on us. We can try to build bridges between societies and nations by reaching out in friendship, learning new languages, and offering any help we might be able to give. And we can work for and promote human rights like the right to life, religious freedom, freedom of thought and expression, and the rights to decent work, housing, education, food, and health care. “If you want peace,” said Pope Paul VI, “work for justice.”
In addition to working for peace, we must also pray for it. Peace will never come through our efforts alone, because peace is always a gift from God. It is human sin that creates divisions and destroys peace, and it is only by the grace of God that the effects of sin are undone and peace is restored. That’s why we must pray. We can pray for an end to warfare and violence; we can pray that world leaders will strive for peace; we can pray for justice and forgiveness between enemies; we can pray for our conversion, that we may turn from sin and give our lives to Christ, the prince of peace; and we can pray that God will help us to be peacemakers. Holy Spirit of Pentecost, help us all to spread your peace.