We stand on holy ground – ground made holy by the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims down through the years. Pilgrims who have come here to The Friars at Aylesford on this pilgrimage to pray for peace: peace of heart and mind for themselves first of all and for those they love. We come because we realise that, yes, peace is a gift of God to humankind but it is also a basic attribute of God, a quality of God. The Lord is peace. We all yearn for peace because we are all part of creation – all creation hungers and thirsts for peace. We come as pilgrims who know that originally God created all that exists in peace and harmony, and that God’s plan was disastrously sabotaged by human disobedience. Then the world experienced the shedding of blood for the first time. Division and violence made their appearance both in personal and social relationships and those relationships suffered hugely as a result.

We have come to this holy and peaceful place – a place filled with the spirit of prophet, Elijah. Despite his many trials and tribulations Elijah discovered that the L ord God was not to be found in the earthquake, the hurricane or the fire. In this he is teaching us all, I think, that while the Lord is peace – peace and violence cannot live under the same roof. Where there is violence God cannot be present. If Elijah was alive today, how many other powerful noisy places would he discover where God is not present?

But Elijah did discover the Lord was peace and we are hoping to do likewise. We do believe, that despite the thorns of life, through prayer, worship – worship of God and union with God – we can be given the peace that the world cannot give. In the midst of pain and suffering, we can find serenity and even deep joy but we will do so only if we remember that we are created, and at all times, embraced by the love of God – our loving Father. With Julian of Norwich we know in our hearts of hearts that no matter happens “all will be well and all manner of things will be well”.

We come here as pilgrims at a lovely time of the year – the season of Autumn – with its fruitfulness. A couple of days ago we celebrated the triumph of the Holy Cross of Jesus. We come here on a Sunday when, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that, yes, he is the Messiah but not maybe the kind of Messiah whom we expected. For he is a Messiah who will be rejected and made to suffer and die but he will rise again.

That was the first surprise which stunned Peter and the disciples no doubt. The second surprise was that the followers of this Messiah were to deny themselves and take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. This, from a man who was described as the Prince of Peace and who, before he left, said to them, ‘My peace I give you’.

And so the followers of Christ find themselves believing in a God who is peace, yearning to share in that peace and, at the same time, being invited to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Jesus who is the Prince of Peace.

So the third part of the jigsaw emerges. Peace is a human project. Blessed are the peacemakers. Peace has to be made here and now, day by day, not just by the politicians, not just by the diplomats, but by everyone. For peace is founded on relationships. Peace is founded in the primary relationship that exists between every human being and God. It is founded on a relationship that is marked by wholeness and righteousness and harmony.

St Francis of Assisi realised this clearly. He knew that he had a part to play in this human project of peacemaking. He knew he was called, by God, to be a peacemaker. And yet, he realised that on his own he could not do it and so he prayed for the help of the Holy Spirit to be made an instrument of peace – a channel of peace.

I come from Northern Ireland where we too have come to realise that peace is, in the first place, an attribute of God, but something, which God wishes to share with us. Peace is also a gift of God to be sought in prayer. We have come to know peace is also a human project, a project to be carried out by the peacemakers, that is, by all of us.

Speaking about peace in Northern Ireland is like speaking about a glass that is half empty or half full, depending on your point of view. The peace we enjoy here at present has been described as an ‘unstable sort of peace’ but it is real peace, and we should be grateful. Looking at the glass that is half empty, we could think of the amount of organised paramilitary crime that still exists, the hold the paramilitary groups still have on some communities, and we could conclude that the absence of war is not the same as peace. The cancer of bigotry and sectarianism still exists, a huge amount of work still needs to be done to heal old wounds and bring the d parts of our divided community closer together.

Looking at the glass that is half full, we think of the number of organisations working hard to bring our fragmented society together and to restore dignity to those on the margins of society.

People are now under a lot less stress regarding the security situation. The ceasefires, the Belfast Agreement, the decommissioning of IRA arms, have made a huge difference. People feel a lot more secure, a lot more at ease. The latest IMC Report confirms that the glass is more than half full.

All of this has created the climate where, hopefully, more progress can take place. People can begin to talk to each other and work together and discuss with each other the future ahead as a shared future in a way that would not have been possible ten years ago.

Last week I attended a meeting of the Irish Inter-Church Committee. It is a Committee which represents the main Christian churches in Ireland. There we heard a most heartening analysis and presentation from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on the way forward. Even though the devolved administration is suspended some people are at work to chart the way forward which they describe as a ‘shared future’. How encouraging it was to hear that ‘shared future’ described as follows:

“The establishment, over time, of a normal, civic society, in which all individuals are considered as equals, where differences are resolved through dialogue in the public sphere and where all people are treated impartially. It is also a society where there is equality, respect for diversity and recognition of our inter-dependence”.

The speaker went on identify the key challenges and they were:

· Relationships (in other words, building up good community relationships) on dealing with the legacy of conflict and violence,
· Working towards reconciliation in a divided society
· Eliminating violence and poverty

I must say that I found this most encouraging but I repeat, politicians, civil servants, diplomats, cannot do this on their own. It will only happen if we all become like St. Francis, channels of peace and instruments of this shared future. It will only happen if we all are inspired to banish hatred from our own lives and to bring love, to replace injury with pardon and to build up trust by dispelling doubts and fears.

On Friday last we celebrated the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. We remember that she willingly co-operated in the sacrifice of her son. She stood on Calvary in union with her son. She united her suffering with Jesus in his Passion and so she experienced the freeing power of his death and resurrection. She is called Queen of Peace, Cause of our joy. Today we pray, in a special way, for those whom God has called to stand with Mary on Calvary.

Mary, Queen of Peace, Cause of our joy, teaches us that in the midst of thorns, whether they be personal suffering and frustrations, or the immense injustice and inequalities of the world, it is possible to find God and to allow ourselves to be channels of His peace. It is possible only with the help of His Holy Spirit.
For, when we commit ourselves to charity, to aid work, to world peace, we remember this is the response we are called to make in justice to the sinful mess that men and women have made of our society and our world. We are called to work as co-creators with God of His world, to give His life and love fuller expression in ourselves and others. For in Him, and in Him alone, is our peace for the Lord is peace.