Social Justice: Peace is possible with the help of God
By Barbara Budde
"So this is the invitation which I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.
And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world" (Pope Francis, "Urbi et Orbi" address on Easter Morning).
In his Easter message to Rome and the world, Pope Francis asked us to pray for peace in all the places where war and violence are raging or threatening to break out: the Middle East, Africa and Asia. We may think that the pope’s words are nice but impossible. How can there ever be peace? We may wonder how is resurrection possible in this crazy world?
We are in the midst of the great season of Easter when we celebrate God’s triumph over sin, death, evil and violence. Peace is possible because God wills it, but we must cooperate with God by wanting it, working for it and praying for it.
The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus forgiving sinners, even those who killed him. There are no stories of Jesus acting violently towards others ever! Sure, Jesus got angry at the merchants and money changers in the temple, but he overturned tables, he never struck another person and he rebuked Peter for turning to violence. After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the demoralized and terrified disciples and spoke these words, "Peace be with you." He breathed his spirit of peace and forgiveness on them sending them out to proclaim God’s peace and forgiveness to the world.
For four centuries the early Christian community rejected violence. Only at the end of the fourth century did St. Augustine articulate narrow parameters when Christians could defend themselves against aggressors, but only with sorrow and under strict limits.
So in this age when terrorism and nuclear threats loom large, what are we to do? Pope John Paul, who saw violence and suffered it at the hands of the Nazis gave this exhortation in his World Day of Peace message of 2004: "All of you, hear the humble appeal of the Successor of Peter who cries out: today too, at the beginning of the New Year 2004, peace remains possible. And if peace is possible, it is also a duty!"
Peace will remain impossible if we believe it to be. The early Christians were no different from us, their world and their hearts were just as violent, but they believed that our God who changes hearts, who forgives sins and who saves the world could act in their lives. God is here to help us and God wants to help us. We must stop thinking it is impossible; we must let God help us.
Peace starts with our own conversion. We must practice seeing everyone as God’s beloved child, pray for every enemy, seek God’s grace to transform violent thoughts or words before they become violent actions, pray for peace, and avoid television programs, movies and video games that are violent or glorify violence.
Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, founded in the war-torn ruins of Europe in 1945, has many resources for peacemaking. Visit their webpage at www.paxchristiusa.org for information on peacemaking, books, prayer cards and more. The Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis, Mo., has been producing materials for families and children for more than 30 years. Visit their website at www.ipj-ppj.org.
May we take Pope Francis’ words to heart and accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection. That grace can transform us so that we can be God’s agents in bringing about a world of peace. With God all things are possible!
Barbara Budde is the diocesan director of social concerns. She can be reached at (512) 949-2471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.