Cardinal Kasper Identifies Keys to Authentic Peace

Homily During Mass on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

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ROME, SEPT. 18, 2003 ( The cross, where Jesus destroyed the wall of enmity by destroying enmity in himself, is the school where we learn to give true peace to all men, says Cardinal Walter Kasper.

During a Mass last Saturday in the Basilica of Santa Maria, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also stressed the value of dialogue as an instrument to work for peace. This echoed a theme at the international summit of religious leaders held from Sept. 7-9 in Aachen, Germany.

Cardinal Kasper joined 500 religious leaders and thousands of people in Aachen, convoked by the Community of Sant’Egidio, to attend the 2003 meeting on «Men, Religions and Peace.» Here is the integral text of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s homily, issued by Sant’Egidio.

* * *

Numbers 21:4-9
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

We arrived in Aachen last Saturday to reflect on peace and to pray for peace in the world. This Saturday, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we are in Rome in Santa Maria in Trastevere to pray again for peace and to celebrate the peace that Jesus Christ has given us.

I. The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross commemorates the finding of the Cross of Jesus by Empress Helen, wife of Emperor Constantine, during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In this context, it is not for us to question or discuss whether or not Empress Helen found the real historical Cross of Jesus. It is not important because the event is only the external occasion for this feast, which has a much more profound meaning, a meaning which amply surpasses the purely theoretical question.

The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross reveals the center of our Christian faith. The Exaltation of the Cross tells us that the cross, sign of ignominy, defeat and death, is exalted and has become for us, who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sign of the victory of redemption, reconciliation, life, love and peace.

In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that Moses raised a metal serpent in the desert and that each person who looked at that figure was saved from the serpents’ bites. For him, it represents a prophetic event. Because «as Moses raised the serpent,» «it is necessary that the Son of Man be raised so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.»

To contemplate the exalted cross, to contemplate the exalted and transfigured crucifix, to contemplate the face of Christ covered with wounds and blood, is to reflect on the love of God the Father, who has contemplated all the crosses of this world, who has contemplated the suffering and cry of the sick, of the poor, of the hungry, of the tormented, and of those who have been unjustly killed. He has not wanted to abandon his creatures but, instead, full of mercy has sent his only Son, not to judge and condemn the world, but to save it and give it life. The cross is the sign of love that descends from on high to that which is deepest, to death.

The cross is the sign of love that wishes to encounter us, men and women, wherever we are in our misery and impotence, where we cannot help ourselves. It is the sign of a love that penetrates the realm of injustice, hatred, falsehood, violence and death to fill and transform all this darkness and this misery into justice, truth, forgiveness and mercy, life and love.

This «condescension» of love is, therefore, elevation and exaltation of the cross and of all the crosses present in the world. It is the beginning of a new world in the midst of this one; a world where life triumphs over death, justice over violence, joy over sadness and weeping, love over hatred, a world of peace, which is much more than the silence of arms, but which is the fullness of life in justice and in joy, true peace where — as St. Augustine says — no one will be disturbed by another, where we will be free of all evil, filled with endless goods, and will enjoy eternal happiness, life without end.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul states that on the cross Jesus destroyed the wall of enmity by destroying enmity in himself, and those who were far off he brought near creating peace. Contemplating the cross with faith gives us peace, because Christ crucified «is our peace.»

II. Celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we return in a certain sense to Aachen, where we were conscious of many discords, of conflicts, of hunger, of violence, of injustice, of discrimination, of sicknesses like AIDS, of the wars in the world, and of the divisions in the Church itself. We have seen a profoundly wounded and suffering world, a Church with many plagues.

With what look have we contemplated the world and the Church? Certainly not with an optimistic look, because that would not have been realistic or sincere.

But neither have we fallen into the trap of lamentations, of condemnation and of pessimism. We have avoided this temptation, sadly present even in many Christians of today, who have become prophets of doom, those who were rejected by Blessed Pope John XXIII, and who have not accepted the openness verified with Vatican Council II. One cannot be pessimistic contemplating the exalted cross, the triumphant cross!

The cross is the sign that God, in Jesus Christ, has overcome fear and despair. There is no room for fear in love; love expels fear, the First Letter of John affirms. The cross is the sign of hope. The cross tells us that God has justified justice, God has realized peace. Because of this, justice and peace are possible. It is not death but life that has the last word.

III. Peace is possible. So, let us have the courage to offer peace and to be agents of peace! How? Not like the military or politicians, who are certainly necessary in this world. But their task is not ours, and their means, methods and competencies are not ours.

Let us recall Jesus’ words: «My peace I give to you, not as the world gives.» It is the peace that springs from the cross, peace in the sign of the cross. To work for peace, not with violence, but like Jesus, descending and lowering oneself to the poor, the afflicted, and filling their misery with the light of mercy and so healing the wounds and giving new value to life, giving confidence, and thus reconciling hearts, creating a new atmosphere, a new climate of hope and joy.

All this was described in Aachen with the word «dialogue.» Dialogue is much more than an exchange of ideas. Dialogue represents a way of living together, a nonviolent way of coexistence, in mutual respect and esteem, an exchange not only of ideas but of life, of means of life and love. Whoever initiates dialogue becomes humble, lowers himself, not out of weakness, but out of the strength that comes from faith, charity and hope.

And because of this, the final «Appeal for Peace» was able to declare: «Dialogue leads to peace. Dialogue is an art that tears us away from the obtuse pessimism of those who say that it is impossible to live together with others, maintaining that the evils we have endured condemn us to endless hatred. Dialogue is the way that can save the world from war. (…) Dialogue is the medicine that cures the wounds and opens the only horizon possible to peoples and religions: to live together on this planet, defending it and offering it to future generations as a place where one can live better than today.»

We have gathered this afternoon to thank God because all this has been done in Aachen within the limits of what is humanly possible, because we have been able to give testimony of our hope founded on the exalted cross, where our gaze contemplates the merciful face of the Lord who has come «so that the world will be saved through him.» Amen.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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