Friday, November 11, 2011

Post #67 - Peace...and His Peace

"Pursue peace with all people... " (Hebrews 12:14)

"Shall I inform you of a better act than fasting, alms, and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots." (hadith of the Prophet Mohammad, PBUH)

There is a legitimate, even profound, question to be raised here by those who are concerned about our possibly being too single-minded in the pursuit of peace. Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, retired archbishop of Bologna, preached to attendees at a March 2007 retreat that included Pope Benedict XVI, that there are relative values, such as “solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature”. There are also, he said, absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty – for Christ is Truth, Beauty and Justice. Our challenge is to discern rightly between the two. For example, solidarity can obviously be a misplaced value if it involves compromising on core principles. Love of peace must always be nuanced by concerns for justice. And, respect for nature cannot lead us to sabotage logging operations in ways that endanger the lives of lumbermen, as some “radical tree-huggers” have done. The "pro-lifer" who kills abortion doctors is a classic example of the ambiguity and complexity that is unavoidable in the real world.

The danger, in this age, Cardinal Biffi warned, is that Christianity can easily be reduced to an ideology or a set of shared values that may appeal to a very wide range of people -- “a series of good projects sanctioned by the prevailing worldly mentality"-- but which inadvertently omit “a personal encounter with the Savior.” Biffi was drawing on the work of Russian philosopher Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov and his "Three Dialogues on War, Progress and the End of History." Solovyov wrote: "Days will come in Christianity in which they will try to reduce the salvific event to a mere series of values." In his "Tale of the Antichrist" Solovyov foresees that a small group of Christians will resist and will say to the Antichrist: "You give us everything, except what interests us, Jesus Christ."

For Christians, Christ is the arbiter of our innermost disputations, the banisher of all our doubts and the exemplar for all our actions. Imitation of Christ is our standard operating procedure. Jim Forest, a co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and current leader of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (he joined the Eastern tradition twenty-five years ago) spoke a few years ago to CPF members about peace:

"Not long ago, when there were still two Superpowers...weapons of mass destruction (not only nuclear but chemical and biological) were an essential element in their strategies for common use, the word “peace” has to do not with what is but what could be...
"What about “peace” in the New Testament?...“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you...” (John 14:27) Or this: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but...I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
" Christ uses the’s a condition that exists in the present tense, not something to hope for in the future...But from the point of view of the peaceless world in which we actually find ourselves...[h]ow can one speak of being at peace when there is no peace?...
"It’s a project that has nothing to do with future expectations...but simply how we are living day-to-day, here and now, in this damaged world. If we don’t know Christ’s peace today, neither will we know it tomorrow.

"There is a much loved Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov, who taught this simple maxim: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” [We must] see the possibility of not living a death-driven, fear-centered existence...[of] living in Christ’s peace, even though we find ourselves in a world of bloodshed, of injuries and death, a world of cruelties and tragedies."

If we do not actively honor Christ's charge to be peacemakers, then the Body of Christ (as call the Church) itself will eventually be transformed into a ghastly and distorted anti-church that bears little resemblance to its ideal form. This poem by American poet W.S. Merwin reminds us of the danger:


The church in the forest
was built of wood

the faithful carved their names by the doors
same names as ours

soldiers burned it down

the next church where the first had stood
was built, of wood

with charcoal floors
names were written in black by the doors
same names as ours

soldiers hurried it down

we have a church where the others stood
it's made of ash

no roof no doors
nothing on earth says it's ours 

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