We certainly live during a time of wars and rumors of wars. And yet, has it ever been otherwise? The ancient Jews were told to await a Messiah, the Prince of Peace. The remnant from Israel and Judah largely anticipated a warrior savior. They had been conquered and downtrodden. They had paid a heavy price for their infidelity but God had not utterly turned his face from them. Interestingly, they saw themselves punished for compromising their faith and trust in God; while throughout the centuries, they were mocked by the conquering peoples for their fidelity to the ancient faith and the God of Abraham.
“He himself will be peace.” These words from Micah are true, but the peace of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ is a gift with which we still struggle and misunderstand. Certainly, one dynamic of it is peace between peoples. But, this is not simply a lack of belligerence. The peace of the Good News is radical and all-embracive. We turn on our televisions and open our newspapers and there are almost daily reports of dead soldiers overseas. Everyone is on guard against terrorists and now it looks like North Korea has a nuke that can reach the West Coast. The new millennium is starting to look an awful lot like the old one. The problem remains the same; there can be no true and lasting peace until there is a change in our minds and hearts. Early Christians prided themselves on not resisting aggression. They turned the other cheek and they announced forgiveness to their murderers in imitation of Christ. They also suffered and died in droves. After about three centuries of facing the sword, fiery stake, cross, and wild beasts, believers took up armaments in the service of a would be emperor, Constantine. Their bets proved fortuitous and Christianity would emerge as the privileged religion of the empire. However, as history shows us, such a victory would not guarantee perpetual peace and harmony. Once the word is picked up, it is hard to put down again.
How do we understand peace? Lack of aggression is certainly part of it, as in our desire for security; and justice is a theme we hear much about as well, but how far do we go to achieve the peace we crave? Pearl Harbor and 9-11 have fueled our mistrust. Apart from the politics of late, there is the danger of creating a mentality that perverts a command of Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It becomes, rather, “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” This is not purely a global strategy, but how many people live their lives.
The Jewish understanding of SHALOM or peace is a salutation and benediction of friendship and cooperation. It is an invocation of divine blessing, for health, prosperity, and good standing with God. At Mass, Catholics extend the sign of peace to one another. We are one in the Lord. We are all brothers and sisters who should love and care about one another. Peace is the realization of divine love in our lives. At least these understandings are what should be present; however, enmity, a lust for revenge, and various forms of racism can get in the way. Here is the tragedy. Peace is not simply an enemy staying on his side of the fence. It is about the removal of walls and fences. It is about mutual good will and cooperation.
The peace among nations must also reflect a peace among fellow citizens, in the Church, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and in us as individuals. Should it surprise us that when the world is at war that our small part of it should also suffer unrest? Are there people with whom we refuse to associate? Are there family members who have not spoken for years? Did we get mad at someone and deliberately hurt them? Did someone do this to us? Do we pray for our enemies and try to forgive? Do we look for forgiveness from God so as to live in peace with him? Do we see people different from ourselves— because of race, or language, or culture— as a problem or as an enrichment and opportunity for our Church and brotherhood?
Jesus offers a peace that the world cannot give or understand. The Gospel of Life gives credence to the late Mother Teresa’s words that there can be no peace in the world while we are at war with the child in the womb. October is a special month for the rosary and for the cause of life. Elizabeth hails the unborn Christ as the “blessed fruit” of Mary’s womb and as her Lord. Let us be true men of peace and if need be, a sign of contradiction, to the society around us.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Father Joseph Jenkins