Greetings of peace as we continue through the octave of Christmas. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace.
As I sat with the Gospel for today, Luke 2:16-21, I noticed with curiosity that it is the shepherds who are the protagonists here: they are named first, and it is they that complete all the actions and movement. Furthermore, they are named three times within the passage, beginning with the first verse: “The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger.” It is the shepherds that then share what they have seen, and the Gospel writer shares that “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” And the third time they are mentioned: “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” The Inclusive Bible has this translation: “All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.”
This passage portrays the importance of a message- and when moved to keep it in our hearts, to embody it, we are moved to action. And not only the message itself, but valuing the witness of those most directly affected by that message. Our first reading today is likewise about a message— Moses is told by God to speak to Aaron and his family and share a message of blessing. And the psalm and second reading provide insights of what it can look like when a message of peace and justice is integrated into a community. The psalm for today proclaims that the nations are glad and exult when the people are ruled with equity, while the second reading affirms the priority of kinship and relationship.
Holding all of these observations, perhaps today is an invitation to become more conscious of the messages that are guiding our lives, so that we can begin to re-imagine harmful narratives that have shaped us and our communities and instead commit or re-commit to nonviolent practices. Just as violence shapes our way of being, nonviolence is in our DNA! It flows, it directs, it creates the paths that we take. It is our collective right and responsibility to change the narratives of domination, separation, and violence to ones that make for genuine peace built on frameworks of justice.
Throughout his time as Pope, Pope Francis has delivered messages this day on the theme of peace. He has emphasized intergenerational work for peace, nonviolence as a style of politics, and ecological justice as part living nonviolently.
Each of these messages of peace frames nonviolence not a passive understanding of non-engagement or inaction, but as a way of life, a positive and powerful force for social change, a process for ending violence without using violence, for transforming conflict, and for protecting the vulnerable. It is within our power to embody the spirituality of nonviolence to resist, interrupt, stop the cycles of violence for a just and lasting peace.
As the preliminary document of this year’s message indicates, this year’s message is on the topic of “Artificial Intelligence and Peace.” Pope Francis calls for an open dialogue on the meaning of these new technologies and affirms the need to be vigilant so that a logic of violence and discrimination does not take root in the production and use of such devices, at the expense of the most fragile and excluded. May AI be used in a responsible way, so that it may be at the service of humanity and the protection of our common home.
Pax Christi, Latin for the Peace of Christ, is an international movement and community working for peace around the world. Today is the day that we as a community take the Vow of Nonviolence, written by Eileen Egan and Fr. John Dear. Tens of thousands of people have taken this vow through the decades and I think of them with today’s theme of shepherds or messengers. I am so grateful for the peacemakers who have taken on that message for peace, witnessed to it, and shepherded new generations of peacemakers, artists, ministers, and activists.
This image behind me is called “Tower of Women” by artist and IHM sister Sr. Helen David Brancato. The woman in this image appears to be a shepherd and carries with her all the women who have accompanied her—perhaps on her own path of peace. I invite you to consider who the messengers of peace have been in your own life- those who, like the shepherds, have been witnesses along the way spreading peace. I am reminded that we can only achieve a lasting peace with others, and so many times, it is women who are leading the way. People like Sr. Dianna Ortiz, the four church women of El Salvador, Sr. Dorothy Stang, Dorothy Day, the women of Catholic Women Preach, Mary of Nazareth...
It is especially notable then, that today we celebrate Mary. After all, who taught Jesus to grow into the person he became? Who nurtured in him the ways of peace, justice, and equity? Who perhaps modeled the message of radical embrace and nonviolent inclusion, and enduring love? Who was it that invited him to make daily decisions that would ultimately influence the decision to nonviolently face his cross? I like to think Mary of Nazareth had a LOT to do with it.
So today, as we remember the message of the shepherds, and consider who the messengers of peace are in our own communities, perhaps we might choose a message of peace for this new year that we can both keep in our hearts and live into for the next 365 days. May this year be a year of peace with justice, each of us contributing in ways that embrace and endure.
The Vow of Nonviolence in English, French, Arabic, Italian, Korean, German, Spanish and Swahili.
Michelle Sherman (she/her) is the program director for nonviolence and campus outreach at Pax Christi USA. She is also a retreat presenter and spiritual director.
Born in the Philippines and raised in St. Louis, MO; she has been formed, educated, and nurtured by several women’s religious communities including the Sisters of the Precious Blood in St. Louis and the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN. Michelle served as a lay missioner in New York City at Mother Cabrini High School with the Cabrini Sisters (MSC) and then directed the vocation and volunteer ministry program of the Religious of the Assumption (RA). She currently works for Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, and collaborates with the global Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.
She completed the Spiritual Direction Formation program with the Sisters of Mercy and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry from Villanova University. As a transnational and transracial adoptee, part of Michelle’s practice includes holding space for other adoptees and the ways in which this experience shapes and informs our spiritualities and spiritual practices. Michelle is also a certified facilitator in the JourneyDance™ movement practice. She is a member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network and Spiritual Directors International.
Michelle is a Lay Marianist and teaches a course on spiritual direction at the University of Dayton. She currently serves on the leadership team of the Pax Christi Young Adult Caucus (PCYAC) and on the boards of both Bridgefolk (a grassroots network of Mennonites and Roman Catholics) and the Bergamo Center for Lifelong Learning. She enjoys knitting, gardening, and haiku poetry and has an Instagram account where she writes haiku poetry and reflections on her garden: @gardenhaikuswithmichelle.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
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