Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Jesus’ farewell gift in today’s Gospel (John 14:27-31a) is the gift of peace. He makes it very clear that this peace is given “Not as the world gives…” And this of course raises the question of how it is that the world gives peace (or, perhaps, what sometimes passes for peace).

One person who struggled with this question (with no conclusive result) was T. S. Eliot, in his drama Murder in the Cathedral. Eliot’s model was Greek tragedy, and his play is complete with chorus and couplets. But there is a prose interlude, a “sermon” preached by Becket in Canterbury cathedral on Christmas night—four days before his murder in that same cathedral. In this sermon, Becket (Eliot) comments that the world’s sense of “peace” is primarily the absence or cessation of violent conflict, whether between England and its neighbors, or king and barons or a happy householder with peaceful gains, a good friend and a cheerful family. Lord knows these are all blessings! But they are not the peace our Lord promises. And Becket (Eliot) has nothing concrete to offer beyond the statement that they are not the same.

Another person who struggled with the idea of the Lord’s peace was Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. He knew much sadness in his ministry: for preaching and writing on the view that ALL life issues should be regarded as sacred, as a “seamless garment,” he was accused of being soft on abortion; he battled pancreatic cancer and beat it; he endured 18 months of slander before a false accusation of his being involved in sexual abuse of a seminarian was finally proved not only false but maliciously spread by a discontented priest. His proposal to bring divisiveness in the Church to an end with his “Common Ground” initiative was met with direct opposition by other American prelates. And then the pancreatic cancer came back.

Two things indicate to me the meaning of the Lord’s peace in him. After the accusations were proved false, he journeyed to the young man’s bedside (he was dying of AIDS); there was a reconciliation and forgiveness, and Bernardin was able to bring the young man back into the graces of the Church before he died.

Then when the cancer returned, it was the most powerful of all press conferences when he announced the fact and insisted that he regarded death as a “friend,” a friend who would take him to Jesus. On his deathbed he wrote his final memoir, titled The Gift of Peace. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially to anyone in whose life cancer has been an unwelcome visitor.

To forgive; to surrender; to be content—this is the essence of the Lord’s gift of peace. No desire for revenge, no petulant cries that the cancer’s return is unfair. Just a simple, heart-felt YES to the Lord. I am not sure whether the gift of peace enables the forgiveness and the YES, or whether the YES and the forgiveness bring the gift of peace. But I am convinced that they must all go together.

Who is ready for this gift?


  1. Cardinal Bernardin sounds like a wonderful soul. I do agree that ALL Life issues are sacred; however, I do not agree that ALL Life issues hold equal importance in terms of priority. I cannot imagine the dismemberment and death of a pre-born/born child whose body (or body parts) are sold to the highest bidder, be it a cosmetic company, drug company, research facility, and so on, to be of egual importance with someone not owning a house, or not being able to afford air conditioning, or junk food. I grew up without many of today's luxuries, and I didn't die from from it. But abortion denies life (rich or poor). (note) I'm tired and probably could have phrased this better, but I believe the message is understood.
    Lisa Adams

  2. I have read the Gift of Peace many years ago after dealing with many family members who died of cancer. The Book was and continues to be an inspiration to me.