December 17, 2010


Peace be with you

On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).

That seems to be the preferred translation from the original Greek of the angels’ message to the shepherds after they announced the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Other translations have been “Peace on earth; good will toward men” and “Peace on earth to men of good will.”

Regardless, we get the idea. The birth of our Savior and Lord should bring peace to those who deserve peace. St. Luke’s Gospel speaks of peace six times, usually after Jesus cures someone and says, “Go in peace.”

But Luke also says that the people proclaimed, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38), echoing the announcement of the angels at Jesus’ birth.

Jesus spoke often of peace. He told his disciples as they were about to journey ahead of him to towns where he expected to visit, “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you” (Lk 10:5-6.)

And he practiced what he preached when, after his resurrection, he suddenly stood in the midst of his Apostles and said, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36). These quotation sources are only from Luke’s Gospel, but the other Gospels report them as well.

The point is that Jesus came on Earth to bring peace. How is it, then, that the world seems to know no peace? Jesus was born during the time of the pax Augusta, the peace of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, 27 B.C. to 14 A.D., when there was peace throughout the Roman world. Since then, though, there has seldom been peace.

Even in the land where Jesus was born, peace ended when the Zealots rose up to try to defeat the Romans. That ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in the year 70 A.D. Jerusalem has changed hands as a result of wars frequently ever since.

Today, Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, is separated from Jerusalem by a hideous wall. It’s meant to keep Palestinian terrorists out of Jerusalem, but it also prevents Palestinian Christians from making pilgrimages to Christian shrines, from visiting relatives and, in some cases, from their own property.

Peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians appear to be going nowhere, with Israel continuing to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory despite protests from the United States and the rest of the international community.

Meanwhile, the United States is still engrossed in wars that seem to be accomplishing nothing positive. One of the most serious consequences of the war in Iraq is the persecution of Catholics and other Christians there by radical Muslims. They have had to flee the country by the hundreds of thousands.

The war in Afghanistan seems to be accomplishing nothing, except adding to our national debt. There appears to be agreement that there can be nothing like a military victory there. It also is acknowledged that al-Qaida in Afghanistan is no threat and the Taliban never has been a threat to the United States. Yet, we continue to fight.

The answer to the persistent question “Can’t we all just get along?” seems to be “No.” There are people out there who are determined to kill us, and do it in the name of religion. Moderate Muslims—and we are convinced that most Muslims are moderate—seem unable to control those who believe that they have a duty to kill “infidels.” Consequently, we have no choice but to defend ourselves in every way possible.

Our search for peace, though, must not mean just an absence of wars. We talk about inner peace, and this is the peace that Jesus seemed to be wishing for his disciples and those he healed.

We must continue to work for peace in the world. Jesus said during his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).

But let us also pray for that inner peace that the world cannot give.

—John F. Fink

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