Peace That Surpasses Understanding

User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 4

Christ is the Prince of Peace, as the readings for Mass this Sunday remind us.
Christ is the Prince of Peace, as the readings for Mass this Sunday remind us. (photo: Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash)

Sunday, Oct. 4, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20; Philippians 4:6-9; and Matthew 21:33-43.

Who doesn’t want peace? Politicians promise to work for it, pageant contestants say they wish for it, songwriters ask us to give it a chance, and yet sometimes we forget its source. 

At first glance today’s first reading and Gospel might seem anything but peaceful. Isaiah prophesies about the Lord’s tending of Israel as his cherished vineyard. Tragically, the vines have not borne fruit since the people have not lived in justice but in violence. Likewise, Christ’s parable in today’s Gospel speaks of the tenants entrusted with the care of the vineyard who not only fail to turn over a fruitful harvest but also beat and kill the servants sent to them. When the vineyard owner sent his own son, the tenants “seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him” (Matthew 21:39). Peace, it is clear, cannot come without justice and fidelity to God.

Amid the dilemma of human injustice, today’s second reading offers a hopeful message of how injustice can be transformed to justice and open us to true peace. St. Paul invites the Philippians and us to walk in the Spirit of God to discover the path to peace. 

Peace begins with the conversion of our minds, as Paul exhorts, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). If more of us followed this advice, we might experience a radical change in our thoughts and actions.

When we think peaceful thoughts, we make choices for peace. Paul knew from his own life experience that when he followed his own ways, he resorted to violence. When he accepted the grace of Christ, he found the path to peace. Then he could write, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

Is this a call to passive inaction or willed ignorance in the face of so much injustice and violence in our world? No. St. Paul turned from violence to devote his great energy and passion to proclaiming the Gospel and calling people to live justly and serve one another. The follower of Christ does not ignore injustice, but rather seeks God’s wisdom and strength to address it. This is the reality Paul expresses as he writes, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

St. Francis of Assisi, whose liturgical feast is celebrated on this date, was a model of the peace that surpasses all understanding. Assisi in his day was not unlike our cities today. There were political factions, unjust distribution of wealth, warfare and disease. The peace of St. Francis did not flow from avoidance of conflict. Rather, he embraced with joy the poor Christ and became a bearer of peace. The soldier once seeking glory for himself became the beggar reaching out to the sick, reconciling factions and rebuilding the Church by prayer and penance. 

If we want peace, we must welcome the Holy Spirit, who enables us to bear fruit and who fills us with God’s peace, which is truly a peace this world cannot give and a peace which nothing in this world can take away.

Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a Dominican Sister of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville.

She received her doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum in Rome and currently teaches

religion and philosophy at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore.