Stories Seldom Heard
238th Edition May 2019
Blessed are the Peacemakers
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome those who attended the Santa Sabina Retreat and the Holy Week Pilgrims’ Retreat in San Rafael, California.
Traffic is an issue in most large cities. So, like you, I try to drive responsibly keeping an appropriate distance between the car ahead of me and the car I am driving, but every so often I violate this sound practice. On more than one occasion when stopped at a stop light I have edged forward to read an unusual bumper sticker. Many of them are very clever. Some of them have lasted a long time and have faded from the sun and rain, but still hold their initial truth. Pope Paul VI’s quote is one of these. “If you want peace, work for justice.” Pope Paul’s words, joined by those of Pope John Paul II, “there can be no peace without justice” have helped us see the connection between peace and justice. These wise sayings, along with scripture, have guided many of our personal and collective decisions. As we try to internalize them, they continue to inform and reform our daily lives as we strive to be peacemakers.
The motto of a peacemaker is not peace at any price. In fact, it is quite different. Peacemaking is not passive. It takes courage, patience and it encompasses all our relationships. A. J. Muste says it well; “The way of peace is really a seamless garment that must cover the whole of life and must be applied in all our relationships.” (1) One of the initial requirements of this seamless garment is to be a person of prayer. Prayer and contemplation root us in the mystery of God. They help us see more clearly what needs to be done according to God’s law and how best to accomplish it. Prayer also sustains us for the long haul because even though the world leans toward justice, changing hearts, let alone changing unjust structures, takes a very long time.
Nonviolence is a significant component of a peacemaker’s heart. John Dear, SJ reminds us that the key to changing the world and pursuing justice is to allow the God of Peace to disarm our hearts. In this way we can become instruments of peace while at the same time working with others towards peaceful solutions of very complex problems. Nonviolence implies that we restrain our instincts towards violence not only in our actions, but also in our words and thoughts.
To be violent in the face of violence would be as incongruous as executing a person on death row because that person had committed a violent crime.
Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way. “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (2) We cannot, as a people and especially as Catholics, respond to violence with violence.
It’s hard to know where to begin changing our minds and hearts so that peacemaking permeates our lives. We are surrounded by violence. Just three weeks ago we commemorated Good Friday. Pope Francis’ “Way of the Cross” in the Colosseum in Rome were meditations that focused on the trafficking of women and girls. The daily news is filled with stories of torture, deadly competition, domestic violence, aggressive and belligerent talk by radio hosts and elected officials. Because violence is so prevalent, it tends to dull our own sensitivity to it and the implicit ways we participate in the violence around us. Our words and actions often reflect the harsh environments in which we find ourselves. So where do we begin? How do we become more aware of the changes we need to make in our own lives in order to become more fully Peacemakers?
There are many ways to deepen our awareness of the changes that we need to make. Rebecca Westerfield offers us a simple, but concrete way to address the violence we sometimes encounter in ourselves. “Where our curiosity has stopped, where questions are no longer asked, is where untested assumptions and entrenched biases obstruct communication and understanding….Violence is not a contest of power. It is rather a statement of impotence and failure of imagination and curiosity. Simply asking the question where have we stopped being curious may help identify where transformative inquiry ought to begin.” (3)
As Catholics we are called to be peacemakers. “The Letter of James” reminds his followers and us that we are not just “called to be hearers of the word, but also doers.” (James 1:16) Sometimes we forget that peacemaking is an essential part of our Christian vocation. The scriptures and church teachings beg us to pay attention to what is happening to the poorest and the least of our sisters and brothers. Peacemaking sometimes calls us to a radical response on behalf of another. Because of this, often those who strive to be peacemakers are misunderstood even by those who share the same religious tradition. Perhaps this division among people of faith has developed because our preachers or we, have become too comfortable. Or perhaps it is because as we look around our world and we realize that peacemaking is a risky business. To work for justice, whether it is within our nation or abroad, or as a government official or a private citizen, is a hard road to plow.
To work for justice is demanding. It requires study to understand the issues well. The time and energy that the in-depth study requires of us becomes an offering to God. It calls for a generosity of spirit. Peacemakers, like us, come in every size, shape and color. We have many different gifts, but a common ground: daily prayer and contemplation. Joyce Roach, O.P. offers us the following prayer that we might want to memorize and prayer each day.
Spirit of Justice, ignite our hearts with courage, to speak the healing truth in love.
Spirit of Justice, ignite our imaginations with fire to envision a world where the needs and hungers of all are met.
Spirit of Justice, ignite our actions with peace, to melt away the acts of violence which erode our planet.
- All Saints, ed. Robert Ellsberg, The Crossroad Publishing company, New York, 1997. 72
- Martin Luther King, Jr.: Essay Series, A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, New York. 1974
- Rebecca Westerfield, Chair of the Rockrose Foundation, Rockrose Newsletter, “Letter from the President”, San Francisco, CA. Rockrose Institute supports, promotes and advances nonviolent conflict resolution through education, improved communication and a deeper understanding of just.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.