Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Challenge of Peacemaking

Cross for the "Kiss of Peace"
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

How can I be a "peacemaker"? This is a question that I bring before the Lord in my heart, especially in these days. How does this question affect my thoughts, my writing, my relationship with my neighbor?

I know that being a peacemaker does not mean avoiding all human conflict. If we don't engage seriously and deeply the character and the root causes of conflicts between people, we cannot possibly understand what is broken, where forgiveness and healing are needed, where people need to be challenged to convert and change their lives, where restitution is due and also where generosity and sacrifice can be transforming.

There is no peacemaking without realism. A Christian realism (the only fully adequate, "integral" realism) sheds the light of the Gospel on a world of people who can be changed by Jesus, but who also continue to be "on the way," traveling the journeys of their lives from many (often mysterious) places; people who remain weak and confused about many things, and still thwarted by evil and deception. This is true of all human beings in this world. This is true of Christians. This is true of me.

When we join together to work for "peace in the world," we must not think that somehow we can bring about a utopia, a permanent end to all human conflict. This kind of "World Peace" is at best a dream or an abstraction, and at worst a sinister ideology masked by idealism, but that really seeks to impose a depersonalizing control that crushes human freedom, making "peace" by making everyone slaves or corpses.

Ultimate peace will come only at the fulfillment of all things. We await in hope the glory of the New Jerusalem from on high, a new creation. As long as the present age endures, however, there will be evil in the world, and with it the ongoing task of overcoming evil with good.

Still, here and now we desire peace, work for peace, pray for peace--at least as much peace in as many places as frail human nature will bear. Not the abstract utopia of a peace that would bring the drama of history and freedom to an end. But real peace among real people, in real circumstances, for a certain time (precious time) --this is within the reach of human efforts aided by the God of peace.

Another beatitude contains the key to our task of being peacemakers in the present time: 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 are lost--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: 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.

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