Anthony educator for peace

Anthony educator for peace

Solemnity of St Anthony

Wis 7,7-14; Ps 39; Ef 4,7.11-15; Mk 16,15-20

  1. Dear sisters, dear brothers,

may the Lord give you peace.

Taking into consideration the context in which we are living, I have thought of deepening an aspect of the witness of Saint Anthony, which is that of preaching of peace and education for peace. We know that peace is a profoundly evangelical and Franciscan value. In his Testament Francis recalls how God had revealed to him the way to greet: “May the Lord give you peace” (Test 23). To the brothers Francis used to make this recommendation: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that greater peace is in your hearts” (L3C 58). Here in the Holy Land the greeting of peace is a normal greeting both in Hebrew (shalom) and in Arabic (salam). If all those who use this greeting had peace in their hearts, at least in a minimal dose, I believe that we would be living in the most peaceful region in the world. Alas, it is not so.

Anthony also lived in a very violent context and he had to confront one of the most ferocious and cruel princes of his times, Ezzelino da Romano. As a good disciple of Saint Francis, Anthony strove to be an ambassador of peace in favour of the citizens of Padua and to ask for the liberation of the hostages who Ezzelino had captured. Anthony was one who, through his preaching, tried to educate the people of his times for peace. In his “Sermons” the word “peace” is found 266 times. It is to his Sermons that I will refer in this homily.

  1. In his preaching Anthony departs from the observation that God has created a peaceful man. He placed him in a peaceful world. The life of peace was his original personal condition: “this was Adam, who was placed in a place of peace and delight so that, obeying the Father, he could conserve his peace for ever. But since he did not want to obey the Father, he lost peace and in his heart the devil stuck three lances and deprived him completely of life” (SQD I(1),3).

Adam is the original human creature, formed of earth but with an extraordinary dignity, since God placed His Spirit in him. Adam is each and every one of us. He is each and every human person in his or her fragility and original dignity.

Anthony then explains what these three lances that the devil sticks in the heart of men are. Whatever takes peace away from humanity in its origins and whatever takes away peace from us is the fact of not obeying to the Father, namely not wanting to trust in God and thus letting ourselves be pierced by three passions: the passion that leads us to satisfy all our natural needs, which is exemplified in gluttony; the passion of pride which leads us to want to become like God in order to make of ourselves His substitutes; the passion of avidity which leads us to think that the more material goods we possess, the more will we become free and autonomous.  

  1. Even from a purely human point of view, how much truth and depth of meaning can we find in this reflection that Anthony presented eight centuries ago. When we live by referring all reality to ourselves and, above all, by searching to gratify our own ego, it is difficult that we will succeed to live in peace. Instead, it is easy that we see in the other an obstacle to our own satisfaction, and therefore as someone who should be eliminated, or else to see in the other person an object for our satisfaction and therefore someone who we should conquer for ourselves.

In this way pride, in all its shades of meaning, will impede us – on one part – to see our own limits and our fragility, and – on the other – it makes us want to dominate over others. And if our field of action regards our family, we will treat our dear ones as slaves. If it is that of work, we will trample over colleagues and employees. If it has to do with governing a country, we will exercise power in an autocratic way. Sooner or later, we will have the desire to invade and to subdue some other nation.

The same is valid in avidity: we will fight continually with our neighbours, because we are not content with what we have. On the level of nations, we would wage wars in order to acquire more resources and to expand in new markets, that is, we would wage an economic warfare.

  1. The peace that Adam lost has been given to us once again by Jesus Christ risen from the dead. He is the new Adam, and we make an experience of our paschal meeting with him: Anthony quotes the Gospel which we still read in the Octave of Easter, namely that of the apparition of Jesus to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday and eight days later (cfr. Jn 20).

Anthony comments: “We should note, first and foremost, that in this Gospel Jesus utters three times «Peace be with you», because of the triple peace that the Lord has established once again. This is the peace between God and man, by reconciling man with the Father through Christ’s own blood. It is the peace between the angel and man, by assuming human nature and lifting it up higher than the choirs of angels. It is the peace between man and man, with Christ, who is the cornerstone, who reunites in Himself Jews and pagans into one people (SPOP 6).

The Risen Christ is the one who gives us the most profound peace, since He reconciles us with God through a forgiveness which is capable of healing us interiorly to the very depth of our conscience. Christ gives us a new dignity, by making our human flesh participate in His divine life. He reconciles us among ourselves by tearing down the wall that separates the chosen people (Israel) from the other nations, as Saint Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Ephesians (cfr. Ef 2,14). In this way Christ transforms the entire humanity into one family.

  1. In the successive paragraph (cfr. SPOP 6) Anthony returns on the theme of the triple peace that the Risen Jesus gives to us, and he gives it various shades of meaning. The Saint says that the first kind of peace that Jesus gives is the peace of time, the second kind is the peace of the heart, and the third kind is the peace of eternity. In order to make us understand better what he is talking about, Anthony gives the following explanation: “You should have the first kind of peace with your neighbour, the second one with yourself, and so, on the octave of the resurrection, you will also have peace with God in heaven” (SPOP 6). We live peace in time, and we build it with those persons who are close to us. Peace with ourselves is the fruit of a reconciled conscience. The third peace is the gift that the Lord gives us at the end of this life. It is an eternal peace, a peace which cannot be taken away from us, a full and blessed peace filled with joy, a peace that cannot be hindered neither by my fragility nor by the hostility of some other person.
  2. The reflections of Anthony on the triple peace given by the Risen Lord remind us that peace is, first and foremost, a gift that we have to receive. Peace has a transcendent root; it comes from God and arrives to us through the infinite love that Jesus has brought when he took upon Himself all the evil of humanity and of history and gave His life in order to absorb and win over all this evil.

Anthony reminds us that there is no peace without reconciliation: with God, with ourselves and with others. Therefore, we have to be ready for reconciliation and ready to educate for reconciliation and for forgiveness. Anthony reminds us also that, in order to work for peace, we need to recognise the dignity of each person and of all peoples, as well as the common calling to live as children of God. We share this same dignity, and we have to overcome also the obstacles that have to do with our pertaining to diverse peoples and languages, cultures and religions. In truth, God wills that different nations and peoples will form one humanity and that differences will not be an occasion for clashes, but rather riches to share among ourselves, tiles of one mosaic which reveals the beauty of the plan of God on humanity redeemed by the blood of His Son.

  1. I conclude with the exhortation and prayer that the same Saint Anthony presents at the end of his Sermon on the threefold peace: “Dearest brethren, let us pray therefore and let us plead and ask for the mercy of Jesus Christ, so that He can come and stay in our midst, and so that He may give us peace, free us from sin, uproot from our heart every doubt and stamp in our soul faith in His passion and resurrection. In this way, together with the apostles and with the faithful of the Church we may attain to eternal life. May we be granted this by Him who is blessed, worthy of praise and glorious for all ages. And may each faithful soul answer: Amen. Alleluia” (SPOP 13).