Thursday, March 27, 2014

Russian Troops, Western Sanctions, God's Peace

A buildup of Russian troops along the border of Eastern Ukraine continues, while the EU and the United States impose sanctions on Russian banks and key economic players as a response to Russia's incorporation of Crimea. It sounds like the situation is tightening up. Perhaps we will have war in the global village (or rather, more war, since there is already strife in Syria and many other places in the world).

But what would a major international conflict look like in the twenty first century? Someone would have to be the first to let hands go in the elaborate, interactive dance of the global economy. Perhaps this will be a war of economic attrition rather than bombs and battles (at least until someone gets desperate). We will probably develop strange new ways of wrestling with one another, while the great and terrible weapons of mass destruction lie idle or come into the hands of new powers who can then hold all of us hostage. Politics, ingenuity, or perhaps diplomacy may still yield all sorts of surprises. It's a new game. I don't know the rules. I'm far from sure that I even know who all the players are. Still, the essential human drama remains the same, as does the only human hope. Even in this present age, there will be peace only insofar as we depend upon the God of peace, the God of mercy.

"Will there ever be peace on this earth?" A Christian knows that, in a final and complete sense, the answer is "no". Peace comes at the end of all things. It is the New Jerusalem. Evil will endure as long as the present age endures.

A historian knows this too. Jesus concisely summed up the history of the world when He said, "there will be wars and rumors of wars...." The history of the world is largely a history of war.

But can we not desire peace, work for peace, pray for peace -- at least as much peace in as many places as frail human nature will bear? Certainly. "World Peace" is a phrase that leads easily to utopia, to dreams and abstractions. But peace among real people, in real circumstances, in a given period of time (precious time), is within the reach of human efforts aided by the God of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

I have no solutions to offer for resolving any of the current conflicts that plague our world. There are the conflicts that are always in front of us, but there are other wars too, smaller ones that we don't hear about unless we really search through the news. And there are peoples who look upon each other across borders, and even within borders, as hated enemies.

What can I do to be a peacemaker in the world?

There is another beatitude that contains the key: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is the key to peace.

Peace with God, which is where it all begins. Peace within the family, in the parish, in the community, in work relationships, on the Internet...Peace in my world. Peace can radiate out from me, if I am a man of mercy, if I do the works of mercy.

What does this mean? It means a whole new way of looking at human weakness, human frailty, human failure, in myself and in those I encounter. The weakness of others, the faults of others, the capacity that others have to cause us pain by their failures and above all in their actions toward us--all of these things give birth to conflict, estrangement, and separations. They wound and break relationships. They divide us. They take root and establish the foundations of rivalry and the partisan spirit that so often afflicts our common endeavors.

Mercy changes everything. Mercy sees the weakness in others as a possibility to help, to give, to forgive, perhaps to endure through love. Mercy gives "space" to the other person for growth in love; mercy gives encouragement, extends empathy, seeks to build up--always--unity in truth and love. Sometimes, mercy must have the courage to fight, to break down resistance, to seek out those who have run away--but mercy never fights against the person; it always fights for the person, for their true good and against what hinders it.

Mercy seeks, especially in the face of human weakness and failure, for the constructive possibilities of love, of rebuilding what is human, of healing. Mercy is love's response to weakness, indifference, and even rejection. It does not take offense. It keeps on loving. It loves more.

But I cannot be merciful by my own power. I have received, and continue to receive, mercy from God. He is healing me, and it is only through Him that I can hope to be an instrument of mercy to others. It is only through Him that I will find the courage to suffer that weakness and failure in others and in myself that remains, for as long as it remains.

This is what builds peace: persons, families, communities, environments where mercy is given and received. This is the hope of peoples and nations: forgiving and moving forward, bearing one another's burdens, working together toward a common goal. Solidarity. Mercy. Even on the political level, the Christian proposal is the only reasonable and practical hope for human community: not another ideology of violence but a "politics of mercy."

All mercy flows from the Cross, where Jesus responds to all our violence and all our resistance by enduring it in His own body and giving it back to us as a gift of love.

Let us begin by opening our hearts to receive this Gift. Jesus I trust in You.