January 19, 2018


Peace, justice, love: All gifts from God

What is peace? It’s the absence of violence, certainly, but it’s also much more. St. Augustine called it “the tranquility of order,” which is certainly an important aspect of peace. When we’re at peace, we’re not filled with anxiety; our homes are not filled with loud arguments and discord; our neighborhoods are safe and well‑ordered, not threatening or chaotic; and nations, races and peoples live together in harmony and mutual respect without suffering the horrors of prejudice, enmity or war.

But true peace is more than just good order or civility. The Second Vatican Council (“Gaudium et Spes,” #78) teaches that peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity. Peace is much more than the absence of war or the coexistence of nations. Peace is a gift from God, the sum total of many gifts from God that help us live fully with hearts full of justice and love.

What is justice? Giving every human being the reverence and respect due to him or her as a child of God. Justice is structuring human affairs, and the organization of society, in accordance with God’s plan. We are just when we treat others fairly, and when we work together to protect the innocent and the vulnerable from violence or evil. We are just when all people (wealthy and poor, strong and weak) live together in mutual respect and solidarity.

What is love? The sharing of self that we learn most perfectly from God, who is Love, and who shows us how to be for others in everything we say and do.

Authentic love is not self-serving or self-gratifying. It is the generous sharing of ourselves (all that we have and all that we are) in ways that connect us intimately with God and with our fellow human beings—those who are closest to us (family, friends and neighbors) and those who are far from us (strangers, social outcasts, even enemies).

True peace, the peace that lasts, happens when we work for justice. It is the product of the hard work of civilization, the rule of law and the right-ordering of social structures. Peace requires fairness, respect for human dignity and the refusal to take advantage of another’s weakness. If we want peace, we must work for justice—here at home and around the world.

Lasting peace—the kind that is more than a temporary ceasefire or a periodic break between hostile actions—is the effect of charity. There is no real peace without forgiveness or without the willingness to sacrifice our individual or collective self-interest for the sake of genuine harmony. If we want peace, we must let go of our desire for revenge, and we must be willing to let old wounds heal through the saving grace of God’s love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “earthly peace is the image and the fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic Prince of Peace” (#2305). Peace has been made possible for us because, by the blood of his Cross, Christ has reconciled us with God and with each other. We have been forgiven so that we may forgive others. We have been shown mercy so that we might let go of our desire for vengeance against those who do us harm to a higher form of justice that is informed by love. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:44-45).

In his message for the 51st World Day of Peace, on Jan. 1, Pope Francis pointed to war, conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, lack of opportunity, and environmental degradation as reasons that families and individuals become refugees and migrants.

Peace will happen when we learn to welcome others, especially the vulnerable. When that day comes, nations will unite in a world order that respects the fundamental human rights and authentic cultural diversity of nations and peoples. Neighbors will help and respect one another. Families will live together joyfully. And each woman and man on Earth will be calm, untroubled and at peace.

When that day comes, Christ will come again, and his peace will be established throughout all of creation. In the meantime, as we begin this new year, let’s continue our search for peace by recommitting ourselves to the work of justice and by loving God and our neighbor unselfishly as Christ loves us.

—Daniel Conway

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