September 9 2017 18:30 | St. Paul Cathedral
Homily by Mgr. Felix Genn, Catholic Bishop of Münster
Honorable, dear guests,
Dear sisters and brothers,
"Paths of peace" – This is the heading for our common days, which we will spend together in Münster and Osnabruck. What does this motto mean? Is it about looking and finding „paths of peace" or are we asked to walk together on „paths of peace"? Will we make a program at the end of these days, on how the „Paths of peace" can look like in our world of today and in the current situation and how they can be put in concrete terms?
Most probably, we will talk about all these aspects and this is why our topic intentionally leaves room for interpretation. It is simply about opening up for this word "Paths of Peace". The people leading the Community of Sant‘Egidio, the Bishops of Münster and Osnabruck who motivated us to organize such a meeting in our two cities this year, have experience with peace; because this is what the Community of Sant‘Egidio is about, they have been working tireless for the "Paths of peace" for many decades. I am deeply touched/moved that in this commitment, dear brothers and sisters of the Community, you looked at Münster and Osnabruck this year. A year, in which the Reformation was particularly commemorated, you included a fact in your considerations that this event in the year 1517 caused enormous developments and upheavals in Europe. From 1618 onwards, this led to 30 years of armed conflicts. How long did it take to find „Paths of Peace"!
The history of the two cities of Osnabruck and Münster tells us, how many paths the envoys of the different people and governments had to travel through to finally end this horrible warfare in 1648 after tough negotiations. The peace of Osnabruck and Münster changed the European landscape, created it anew, but most of all it helped Christian denominations - which were no longer able to come together - to try and live together in peace and harmony. 370 years later, we gratefully acknowledge that times have changed, because differentiation and distrust are no longer paramount but respect, tolerance and benevolence inspire our common deeds and prayers. We thank you, dear sisters and brothers of the Community of Sant’Egidio, for you take up this emphasis this year at the International peace meeting helping to give an international, interdenominational and interreligious emphasis to the commemoration of the Reformation.
Dear sisters and brothers, „Paths of peace" – when we read this motto of our encounters with regard to the readings, which the Church chose from the great richness of the Holy Scriptures on this Sunday all over the world, we can even speak of providence: you cannot speak more clearly about "Paths of Peace" than these texts do. Content and selection of the texts seem to be as chosen for our meeting. The word of the Apostle Paul is at its center: „Do not owe anyone anything—except to love one another" (Rom 13:8). There is no better way to speak of "Paths of Peace": „Do not owe anyone anything—except to love one another". The Apostle does not make a difference between Christians, Jews and Gentiles, believers and non-believers: Nobody owes anyone anything; only to love one another – and we always owe it to one another.
Yes, I would like to say that the Apostle points out to us „that our neighbor has the right to be loved by us, the right to receive our affection" , as our confrere Vincenzo said so beautifully. It is the Apostle’s intention to describe the fulfillment of the Law and this happens by loving one another. We can only fulfill the law, and also all standards, all values, all regulations for human coexistence, when we recognize our neighbor, our fellow human being, the other one as the one to whom we owe our love. This is the core of being a Christian as well as the core of every humanistic thinking. When someone is deeply convinced in his heart and when he gives his life for this conviction, he is on the path of peace.
Based on this core expression of the Apostle, we can see its concretion in the two other texts of the Holy Scriptures and we can feel how deeply the Apostle took in the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, which Jesus presents to us according to the Gospel of Matthew, is a "Path of Peace", too. He confronts himself with the question of the best way for the community to live peacefully. By doing it, he is very realistic, because he knows about the power of evil and so we do. But do we act, as Jesus does? A concrete expression of love and peace is included in this sentence: "If your brother sins against you go and confront him while the two of you are alone" (Mt. 18:15).
Fraternal correction of the other is a form of expression to prevent evil in the community and to give more space to peace. We all know how evil in its manifold ways, our stubborn selfishness, our sense of entitlement and many other aspects such as insisting on our egocentrism and our demands block the „Paths of Peace" and the paths towards each other. Owing love to one another can mean to show the other how to refrain from doing evil, to struggle with him so that he gets back on the track of love. The church order, which Matthew passes on to us, clearly shows that it might not be enough to talk "while the two of you are alone". Therefore, he indicates more steps, which help the other to find back to the right way.
Of course, dear sisters and brothers, there is a limit: someone can refuse and not listen to. Our text from the Gospel of Matthew resorts to what the prophet Ezekiel announced to us. Already at his time, he presented this rule of dealing with each other to the people of Israel. It becomes very clear that it has a destructive effect when someone refuses to be corrected. It is not only about offering oneself as help to the other to live a better life – neither for Ezekiel nor for the Christian community – but it is about the order of God. Therefore, God clearly says through the prophet: „So whenever you hear a message from me, you are to warn the people from me" (Ez 33:7). Thus, correcting the other with the word of God is not to be taken lightly. When looking for the "Paths of Peace", it can become deadly serious.
Even though, it might be deadly serious, love requires respect. This means not to force the other, who refuses to hear, even when it hurts. Urs von Balthasar once said in a beautiful way; "the duty is very seriously inculcated, but that it succeeds, is not part of God's promise."
Dear sisters and brothers, we will make such experience in our search for „Paths of Peace", too: but we do not have to stop at that point because Matthew indicates another path to us, which we want to take up in these days, too: our common prayer in the Name of the Lord. Why should we not resort to this word of the Lord, particularly when someone refuses to listen to: „Furthermore, I tell all of you with certainty that if two of you agree on earth about anything you request, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven, because where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them (Mt 18: 19-20).
"Paths of Peace" – an interdenominational and interreligious meeting in a time, which is characterized by confrontations between people and with groups, which bring religion in contact with violence – this is exactly our topic! Therefore, it is so important to look to witnesses, that testify to us how such paths can be walked along even when they lead to the gates of death. In the past weeks, I dealt with the figure of the Prior of the Monks of Tibhirine. One reason why Christian de Chergé found his vocation for monkhood was that he had met a deeply religious Muslim during the war in Algeria. His name was Mohammed. He was a family man and older than him. They had a very close friendship. During a battle, this Muslim believer protected the Catholic Christian by standing before him. On the next day, he was found murdered. Christian wrote about this: „Through the blood of this friend I realized that sooner or later I had to realize my vocation in following Christ in the country where I received the greatest proof of love". Years later, Christian and his confreres gave their lives for this country in return. „We always owe love to one another", Christians to Christians, Christians to Muslims, Muslims and all the others with whom we are connected as sisters and brothers through the connection (religio) with God. This connection is not realized by violence but only by non-violent love.
We as Catholic Christians celebrate this non-violent, peaceful love in the Eucharist now. We are strengthened by the species of bread and wine and thus bear witness of what the Lord himself has given us: He does not owe anything to us because he lived love to the end.