Friday, September 28, 2012

Peace in Our Time?

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

For the sacred Scriptures, peace is not simply a pact or a treaty which ensures a tranquil life, nor can its definition be reduced to the mere absence of war. According to its Hebrew etymology, peace means being complete and intact, restored to wholeness. It is the state of those who live in harmony with God and with themselves, with others and with nature. Before appearing outwardly, peace is interior. It is blessing. It is the yearning for a reality. Peace is something so desirable that it has become a greeting in the Middle East (cf. Jn 20:19; 1 Pet 5:14). Peace is justice (cf. Is 32:17); Saint James in his Letter adds that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18). The struggle of the Prophets and the reflections of the Wisdom authors were inspired by the hope of eschatological peace. It is towards this authentic peace in God that Christ leads us. He alone is its gate (Jn 10:9). This is the sole gate that Christians wish to enter.

Post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente 9

Reflection – There used to be two bumper stickers that were popular among the religious bumper sticker crowd. One of them read, “If you want peace, work for justice,” the other, “If you want peace, pray the rosary.” As it happens, we once had two guests staying at Madonna House who each had one of those bumper stickers on his car, parked alongside each other in our parking lot.

It was actually a good little catechesis on peace, as both messages are quite true. And the Pope shows us here exactly what binds the bumper stickers together in a common truth. Peace is harmony, peace is integrity. We are made for harmony with God and with one another. Harmony with God comes through prayer and the interior surrender of our hearts to Him, a surrender that Our Lady especially helps us to accomplish. Pray the rosary!

Harmony with one another comes from all our relationships being as they should. In this world there is so much that is not what it should be, and we must work as we are able, as we have light to do, to amend that. Work for justice!

So today we have truly dreadful situations brewing all over the world, but especially in the Middle East. Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria’s bloody civil war, the rise to power of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Israel’s perilous position in the midst of all this—where is peace? Is there hope for it in our life time?

Pray the rosary, work for justice. We cannot ‘fix’ Iran or Syria or Egypt. But our own hearts, at least, can be set in integrity and harmony, with God’s help. It really does come down to that old hoary question: are you part of the problem or part of the solution? If I decide that I’m really in favour of killing all the people who (in my view) are causing problems ‘over there’, then I have abandoned the path of justice. If I, surveying the world and all its woes, and my own heart and all its woes, fail to turn to God and beg his help and healing, I have abandoned the path of prayer. I am no longer a man of peace, then.

Peace is, ultimately, an eschatological concept. In this world we all have free will, and some will always choose to abandon peace for its alternative. There will always be the anguish and heartache, violence and tragedy that flow from this choice. And there will always be most difficult decisions that have to be made by governments as to proper responses to war waging and terror dealing. Peace in this world in the broad social sphere is fleeting and frail at best.
But peace in our hearts—this is not a strictly eschatological concept. Today, I can choose to walk the path of harmony with God and with neighbour. Pray the rosary and work for justice, today. It is not an easy path, not without its sacrificial element, but it is a path open to each of us, today. What path will you and I walk, today?

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