Pope Francis asked that pilgrims assembled in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus yesterday take a few moments and pray for peace in the Holy Land, a place where there seems to be no peace to be had, merely a whole lot of suffering for a lot of people on all sides, who in turn blame the other side for the suffering that they are experiencing, reasoning that their suffering and the suffering of their people would end if the “other people” were done away with. History shows us that there are times when wars must be fought, but the student of history knows that nearly every major war that has been fought, certainly in modern times, was absolutely avoidable. World War I, the centenary of which the world commemorates beginning this year, could have wholly been avoided, with soldiers on all sides at it’s beginning wondering why they were fighting at all. The Second World War and all of its terrible horrors might have been wholly avoided had it not been for the inhumane peace terms dictated at the end of the Great War. In continuing to beat the drum for peace, Pope Francis is continuing a long tradition of Popes speaking up in an attempt to bring world conflict to an end.
It was Jesus himself who made clear that the desire of the Christian believer should be for peace, and that those who are the makers of peace are to be counted as “blessed” in the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 5:9):
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
These are the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and form a part of that discourse known as the Beatitudes. For over 2,000 years, the Church has taught that a person who chooses to try and live the ideal Christian life will live a life centered around the Beatitudes. Hence, the desire of the Christian should always be oriented toward peace, not conflict. Some people think that this means “peace at any price,” but “peace at any price” isn’t peace at all, it tends to provide only the illusion of peace and covers up the causes of conflict. What the Church often seeks is for parties to reach a peace that is acceptable, one in which God’s children can live, not a peace that is won on the backs of oppressed people.
For my personal summer reading, I’ve taken up the classic Catholic novel from the early 20th Century Lord of the World by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, a work that Pope Francis has himself called “prophetic” in light of the situation in our modern culture. Lord of the World is a work of fiction, of course, and I’m only about halfway through the book as a write this, but one thing that strikes me is that the small, reviled, and heavily persecuted Church in the apocalyptic world described in the book certainly does not accept “peace at any price.” The Church could easily accept the peace the world is offering and be left alone, so long as she accepts things that are completely contrary to the Catholic faith, which is eerily prophetic when examining our own time, considering that Monsignor Benson wrote his work in 1907. However, in refusing to yield to the demands of an increasingly hostile secular world literally bent on the worship of “Humanity,” the fictitious Pope John XXIV in Lord of the World does not urge Catholics to violently overthrow the increasingly oppressive regime that is tormenting them and seems determined to destroy the Church. Instead, he repeatedly denounces acts of violence, urges believers to obey the law and live peaceable lives whenever possible, and in the face of being forced to apostatize or face death, he urges a willingness to give up one’s life for the faith rather than commit violence against others. [Note: When I finish Lord of the World, I may write a few thoughts about it or based upon my reading of it.]
Jesus in fact told the disciples that his first coming would not bring peace, but a sword (cf. Mt. 10:34). Yet his desire was for peace, and he wanted his followers to be a people of peace. In a society that is increasingly less peaceful and which seems to glorify violence, hatred, and death, are we as Catholics-as Christians-reflective of the peace of Christ to others? Do we try to bring an atmosphere of peace to those we come in contact with? Do we seek reconciliation with those people in our lives with which we have perhaps not had the best of relationships, in order that we might bring peace to them as well as to ourselves?
A question I ask of myself each day now is this: Have I been Christ to someone today? How might I be Christ to someone tomorrow? How might I be an instrument of peace?