“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” These words we hear each Sunday at Mass before the sign of peace have come to my mind often in recent months, as we watch and read reports about the effects of unrest in our cities and conflicts in different parts of the world.
We are well aware that the peace which Christ longs to give to us, as his disciples and as the Church, so often seems to elude us. This lack of peace in our hearts and in our lives is rooted in sin: original sin, personal sin and social sin, for which we need to pray for forgiveness and the grace of reconciliation.
This week, two Church feasts remind us that we are a people of prayer, and that those who seek and approach our Lord with humility find peace in our hearts and with our neighbors.
One commemoration is Our Lady of the Rosary. This day has personal significance, as I arrived at my first pastorate on that date in 2004. More importantly, this memorial reminds us of the significance of the rosary and the impact praying the rosary has on our world.
In 1571, Christians on the Island of Cyprus were overrun by invading Muslims. As Pope St. Pius V organized a fleet composed of armies from several countries to save the Christians, he asked the faithful to pray the rosary to the Blessed Mother, asking that her prayers would aid them so that they might be victorious in a battle against an armada of far greater numbers than they were able to gather themselves.
On Oct.7, the Christians prevailed at the Battle of Lepanto. In 1572, the pope established Oct. 7 as the Feast of the Holy Rosary. Thus, the feast is known both as “Our Lady of the Rosary” and as “Our Lady of Victory.” Then and now, the feast reminds the faithful of the impact we experience through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, especially when the situations we face seem overwhelming or even hopeless.
Ever since Our Lady presented St. Dominic with the rosary more than 800 years ago, it has been a reassuring way for us to seek her intercession for help in difficult circumstances. Time and again, we have witnessed what happens when we see the rosary the way St. Padre Pio did: as “the weapon against the evils of the world today.”
The other feast we would have celebrated this week, had it not fallen on Sunday, was that of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1219, during the Fifth Crusade, he and a group of his friars traveled to Damietta, Egypt, with the hope of converting the Muslim leader, Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, and establishing peace between the Christians and Muslims.
Note that a year earlier the sultan had offered a diplomatic peace agreement to Cardinal Pelagius Gavini, the papal legate during the Fifth Crusade, but the latter refused it, believing the Christians would prevail. They did — but not until two years had passed and thousands of lives were lost.
As a blueprint for how to bring about peace, consider the non-threatening, charitable and peace-filled approach Francis took when he met the sultan. The saint greeted the leader with the standard greeting of friars: “May the Lord give you peace.”
Likely expecting something confrontational, al-Kamil wanted to know if Francis was representing the pope’s army.
“We’re ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he replied.
That response earned Francis the opportunity to share the Gospel with al-Kamil. While their encounter did not result in the sultan becoming a Christian, nor did it bring immediate peace, it demonstrated how those opposed to each other can find common ground — an opportunity for peace.
There are times when we need to defend our own faith and beliefs against those who violently attack us with their words and actions. Even in those most challenging times we are called to seek a path that is peaceful and respectful of the human person we encounter.
As we reflect in our hearts regarding peace, we should consider the power of the rosary and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, the example of St. Francis of Assisi and, most importantly, the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27).
Jesus has given us peace. With the help of the prayers of Our Lady of the Rosary and of St. Francis of Assisi, may we share it through our words and example.