Observing Peace Day and St. Matthew’s feast day Sept. 21

Q: I have heard that there is an “International Day of Peace” on Sept. 21. How might we Catholics observe it? Thank you.

A: The International Day of Peace (“Peace Day”) is observed around the world each year on Sept. 21. Established in 1981 by a unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a global shared date for all humanity to commit to peace beyond all differences and to contribute to building a culture of peace.

This observance is devoted to strengthening the ideal of peace both within and among all nations and peoples, and it is a way to acknowledge and show appreciation for all who work to end conflict and promote peace. It is also a day in which warring factions are urged to put away their differences — for one day — and cease their hostilities.

By Father Michael Kwatera

The theme of this year’s International Day of Peace is: “The Right to Peace: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70.” This declaration of fundamental human rights was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948. It is the most universal human rights document in existence, and it states the basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled.

These are worthy goals to remember and promote and pray for on Peace Day. Since 2004, the World Council of Churches has called on churches and parishes to observe Sept. 21 as an International Day of Prayer for Peace. On Jan. 1, 1968, we Roman Catholics began observing a World Day of Peace on that date, the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. The Holy Father issues a yearly message for this celebration.

In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, Sept. 21 is the feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist, so we need to observe his feast in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist by using the prescribed readings and prayers. But doing so might be one way to fruitfully observe the International Day of Peace, for Gospel values are reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). This gospel, given to us in the written accounts of Matthew and the other evangelists, surely is a formula for peace in our world. This is especially true of Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

They are a God-given road map to peace in the world and in every human heart. For if we don’t have peace in our hearts, we cannot share the words and deeds of peace with others.

Jesus said to Matthew the tax-collector: “Follow me.” (Matthew 9:9) Matthew got up and followed him. The Lord guided him into a way of holiness, and he followed. The Lord Jesus says to us, through Matthew the evangelist:

“Follow me, you poor in spirit. Know your complete dependence on God’s love.
Then the kingdom of God will consist of such as you.
Follow me, you who are sorrowing. Lament your own sins and the sins of God’s people.
Then you shall be consoled.
Follow me, you lowly. Await the saving deeds that God will work in your midst.
Then you shall inherit the promised land.
Follow me, you who hunger and thirst for holiness. Pray that all of God’s purposes for humanity will be accomplished.
Then you shall have your fill.
Follow me, you who show mercy. Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.
Then mercy will be yours.
Follow me, you single-hearted. Be free from blemished purpose in thought, word and deed.
Then you shall see God.
Follow me, you peacemakers. Make peace with your adversary before the sun sets.
Then you shall be called the children of God.
Follow me, you who are persecuted for holiness’ sake. Do no wrong to anyone, and bear patiently the wrongs done to yourself.
Then the kingdom of God will consist of such as you.
Follow me when you are persecuted, and insulted, and slandered because of me. Persevere in following my gospel until death, sharing in my sufferings, but also awaiting a share in my kingdom.
Follow me in gladness and joy, because your reward is great in heaven.”

Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at mkwatera@csbsju.edu or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.

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