January 17, 2020

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Bringing peace is central to mission of Christ’s disciples

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). Making peace possible is central to the mission of those who choose to follow Jesus Christ.

In his World Day of Peace message a year ago, Pope Francis reflected on the responsibility that world leaders have for peacemaking. “Political office and political responsibility constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future,” the pope said. “If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.”

Respect for human dignity is essential if individuals, local communities and nations are to live together in peace. “One thing is certain,” the Holy Father says, “good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations.”

Pope Francis is not naïve. He knows that making peace is a complex and difficult responsibility, especially among people who bear grudges for injustices (real or perceived) dating back centuries. Then there are obstacles that come from the sins of individuals and social systems. As the pope observes:

“Sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions. Clearly, these vices detract from the credibility of political life overall, as well as the authority, decisions and actions of those engaged in it.

“These vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony. We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power,” the Holy Father says.

“To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment,” the pope continues, “the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile.”

In the face of such obstacles, it’s no wonder that wars, civil unrest and various forms of tyranny and oppression are still common in today’s world.

And yet, we Christians believe that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has given us the spiritual tools we need to make peace.

Starting with the Beatitudes, and the moral principles that are the foundation for laws and social programs that respect the life and dignity of every person regardless of economic, social or political status, Pope Francis assures us that we are called to be “artisans of peace.”

“Authentic political life, grounded in law and in frank and fair relations between individuals, experiences renewal whenever we are convinced that every woman, man and generation brings the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies,” the pope teaches. “That kind of trust is never easy to achieve, because human relations are complex, especially in our own times, marked by a climate of mistrust rooted in the fear of others or of strangers, or anxiety about one’s personal security.”

Pope Francis believes that true peace is “the fruit of a great political project grounded in the mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings.” But it doesn’t come easily.

[Peace] entails a conversion of heart and soul; it is both interior and communal; and it has three inseparable aspects, the Holy Father notes:

  • Peace with oneself, rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience; in the words of St. Francis de Sales, showing “a bit of sweetness towards oneself” in order to offer “a bit of sweetness to others;”
  • Peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say;
  • Peace with all creation, rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future.

Pope Francis’s patron saint, Francis of Assisi, was a true peacemaker. His efforts didn’t always succeed, but the spiritual tools he used still resonate throughout the ages, bringing love where there is hatred, forgiveness where there are bitter grievances, and joy where there is sadness and despair.

Lord, make us instruments (artisans) of your peace.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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