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January 1, 2003

World Peace Day

(Luke 2:16-21)

Happy New Year! A few decades ago, the church named New Year's day in honor of Mary and invited us to begin the new year praying that God would bless us and the whole world through the intercession of Mary. We are invited to ponder in our hearts all the great good that God is doing in our lives and in our world, just as Mary pondered in her heart how the shepherds came to the stable, how the angels appeared to them telling them about the birth of the savior, how they announced "peace on earth to those of goodwill," and how those poor shepherds went home praising God.

When you are poor shepherds, living on the outskirts of a brutal empire, the birth of a savior is good news. It's also bad news for empires because it means God sides with the poor and oppressed, not with imperial, military power, then and now.

Mary pondered all these things in her heart, so she must have been, among other things, a mystic and a contemplative. She teaches us to be people of the heart, people who ponder the Gospel and the mysteries of Christ in our hearts, people who reflect, contemplate and meditate on the deeper things, the wisdom of God, the presence of God in our lives, the message of the angels, and Jesus' gift of peace.

Pope John Paul has declared January 1st "World Peace Day." As you know, each week over the past two months, he has issued strong statements against the U.S. plans to massacre children in Iraq, to lead us to World War III, and to risk nuclear war with North Korea. The other day he said, "There is no alternative to peace." Each year, he gives a long statement on January 1st. This year, he calls the worldwide church to reflect on the 40th anniversary of Pope John 23rd's encyclical "Pacem in Terris." Here is an excerpt from the statement he issued today:

"Blessed Pope John XXIII was a man unafraid of the future. He was sustained in his optimism by his deep trust in God and in humanity, both of which grew out of the faith in which he had grown up. Moved by his trust in Providence, even in what seemed like a permanent situation of war, he did not hesitate to summon the leaders of his time to a new vision of peace for the world. This is the legacy that he left us.

"On this World Day of Peace, January 1st, 2003, let us all resolve to have his same outlook: to trust in the merciful and compassionate God who calls us to brotherhood and sisterhood, and to have confidence in the men and women of our time because, like those of every other time, they bear the image of God in their souls. It is on this basis that we can hope to build a world of peace on earth.

"At the beginning of a new year in our human history, this is the hope that rises spontaneously from the depths of my heart: that in the spirit of every individual there may be a renewed dedication to the noble mission which Pacem in Terris proposed forty years ago to all men and women of good will, the task of establishing new relationships in human society, under the sway and guidance of the four pillars of peace: "truth, justice, love, and freedom."

He concluded with a prayer: May the God who calls us from oppression and war to freedom and cooperation for the good of all, help people everywhere to build a world of peace on the four pillars of peace taught by Blessed Pope John 23: truth, justice, love, freedom.

As we begin the new year, the church invites us to contemplate the coming of Christ in our hearts and all that God is doing for us, just as Mary did, and to welcome the angels' message to the shepherds announcing peace on earth, just as John 23rd did.

My prayer for each of you is from our first reading, from the book of Numbers 6:22-27):

"May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace."

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