Peace: the work of justice and the effect of charity
January 14, 2014
This month opened with the 47th World Day of Peace, and Pope Francis’ message, “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace.”
In a few days’ time we will celebrate and honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace.
It seems appropriate, then, to spend a little time reflecting on the meaning of peace for us as Catholic Christians.
While one might initially think of peace as simply the opposite of violence and war, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a much more expansive vision.
It states, “Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and people, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is the tranquility of order. Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity” (no. 2304). This transcendent peace was the first gift of the Risen Christ to his disciples that Easter Sunday night in the upper room (Jn 20:19).
It is in this sense that St. Paul tells the early Christians of Galatia that peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is this far more expansive notion of peace for which we pray for one another every time we say, “Peace be with you.”
Therefore, as Catholic Christians, every time we pray for peace we must also remind ourselves that we are praying that rightly ordered relationships — marked by respect and the recognition of the dignity of all — come to exist between individuals, groups and nations.
When we pray for peace, we are praying for a conversion of hearts and of societies. This conversion is ultimately the work of God, accomplished through the Paschal Mystery of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
The fact that accomplishing so great a task is the work of God does not, of itself, let us off the hook — as though our prayer for “world peace” is a sufficient response as a disciple.
St. James reminds us in his letter that when we offer prayers we also commit ourselves to doing what we can to help to realize the object of our prayer (cf. Jam 2:14-17).
We are called, in the words of the seventh beatitude, to be peacemakers. It is only to the extent that we do this that we deserve the title “children of God” (Mt 5:9). But being children of God is precisely what our baptism, by which we have been joined to the only begotten Son, calls us to be. And thus if we are led by the Spirit received at baptism we are indeed children of God (cf. Rom 8:14).
Therefore, in order for us to live up to our identity as baptized people, we must be tireless workers for peace. And, in the famous words of Pope Paul VI in his 1972 message for the World Day of Peace, “If you want peace, work for justice.”
Thus, our reflection on peace leads us to the realization that we must, relying always on the grace that God gives to us, bring our entire selves to work at all levels of our lives — in our families, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our nation and in our world — to bring about justice.
This is the demand of Christian discipleship. This is what we commit ourselves to every time we pray for peace.
Therefore, the catechetical question that presents itself is this: How do we teach and how do we learn the ways in which to promote justice? We can begin by educating ourselves.
The Archdiocesan Office of Justice and Peace (www.archgh.org/Justice-and-Peace) and the United States Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace And Human Development (www.usccb.org/about/justice-peace-and-human-development) are both great places to begin finding resources and information about programs. The more that we know, the greater our responsibility is to act.
Consider becoming a part of the Texas Catholic Network (www.txcatholic.org/texas-catholic-network) or follow some of the suggestions of the USCCB (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/index.cfm).
In this new year, we indeed pray for peace. And we commit ourselves, as Catholic Christians, to working for justice.