January 17, 2020


Pursuing peace with justice in the New Year

“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. As Pope Paul VI said on the World Day of Peace in 1972, ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’ And that means this work must be done both here at home and around the world.” (Newark, N.J., Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin)

An attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq, apparently orchestrated by Iranian officials, prompted a severe counterstrike by the U.S. which resulted in the death of a man believed to be the principal architect of Iranian terrorism.

Reactions at home and abroad are sharply divided along political lines. President Donald J. Trump’s defenders praise his decisive leadership. Those who oppose the president accuse him of recklessly putting our nation at risk and escalating tensions with Iran.

A few days later, Iran retaliated by firing missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq. Although there were no U.S. casualities in the attack, Iran later shot down a Ukrainian airliner, mistaking it for a U.S. cruise missile. All 176 passengers and crew were killed.

This is not a great way to begin a new year. In fact, it’s a continuation of the old patterns of rancorous division, and it’s a harbinger of bad things to come, especially during an election year. Are we doomed to spend the next 12 months bickering (and worse) at home while fighting our enemies abroad? Or is there a way to achieve true and lasting peace?

Newark, N.J., Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin has written that “true peace, the peace that lasts, happens when we work for justice.” Quoting St. Paul VI, the cardinal reminds us, “If you want peace, work for justice.” And Cardinal Tobin adds, “That means this work must be done both here at home and around the world.”

What does “working for justice” here at home and around the world mean?

Cardinal Tobin calls it “the hard work of civilization.” If we want to be more than people split into warring factions, the cardinal says we must dedicate ourselves to “fairness, respect for human dignity and the refusal to take advantage of another’s weakness.” We also have to be willing to forgive one another for past wrongs while agreeing to start over again in our efforts to build relationships based on justice and freedom.

Name-calling is antithetical to building strong relationships of trust. Whether it’s the president tweeting insults or his opponents making outrageous claims about him, the battle of words accomplishes nothing but further divisions and isolation. The same is true on the world stage. Calling America “the Great Satan” or retaliating with anti-Iranian propaganda only makes matters worse. Peace requires respectful dialogue. It cannot exist where “trash talk” has replaced genuine conversation.

Cardinal Tobin says that “the rule of law and the right-ordering of social structures” are necessary to achieve peace grounded in justice. We Americans pride ourselves on being a nation based on the rule of law. We rightly claim the kind of constitutional government that assures fairness, respect for human dignity and the protection of the most vulnerable members of society. And yet, we know that our laws and our social systems aren’t perfect.

Wise and compassionate leaders are required to execute our laws and administer our social systems with fairness and respect for human dignity. That’s why we must elect women and men who are mature adults dedicated to serving the needs of others rather than stroking their own egos. As Americans, we place a high priority on honesty, objectivity and servant leadership in choosing our government officials. Rhetoric and showmanship can never be an acceptable substitute for speaking the truth with integrity and respect.

The news and entertainment media have an important role to play in pursuing peace with justice in this new year. As Pope Francis has observed, the media can either serve to illuminate the issues we must address as individuals and as local or global communities, or it can distort these issues, enflaming passions and encouraging divisive attitudes and enmity among people who disagree with one another.

In this new year, to work for justice and thereby achieve peace here at home and around the world, we must talk to each other with courtesy and respect. This does not mean we should be naïve about the dangers we face. But it does mean that we should never make things worse by adding insult to injury, or by engaging in a war of words that simply enrages our opponents here at home or abroad.

Let’s pray for peace with justice in 2020. And let’s hold our tongues and refrain from accusing our enemies of things that will only cause further divisions. As Pope Francis would say, both at home and abroad, let’s build bridges rather than walls.

—Daniel Conway

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