Friday, September 06, 2013

What is the peace for which we pray?

Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.

Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. 

It is right and it is duty
Oscar Romero, Martyred Archbishop of El Salvador

Today marks a month since my last blog post. There has been so much good and so many things that I've wanted to share with you through a blog post. The past several weeks have certainly brought their share of blessings : the beginning of the academic year - on 2 campuses, the growth of our community at Annunciation House of Discernment, thoughtful conversations with friends both near and far, and more about my summer adventures. Oh, so much to share with you!

However, today I find myself unable to focus on those things - as good as they are. No. Today I am contemplating peace and the lack thereof. Contemplating why there is so much trouble in human hearts, violence in many places of our world, young people in our schools and on our streets who do unthinkable acts of violence out of boredom (...or depression... or rage), the lack of respectful discourse in our political landscape... and the list goes on.

For many years these things have troubled and saddened me a great deal. This is not the way God intended our world to be. This is not the Kingdom of which Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is in your midst." Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of good in the world and in my life. And for that, I am more grateful than words can adequately express. It is the good in our world and in human hearts that can allow us to hope. And "hope does not disappoint."

There is a saying, "The Kingdom of God is already and not yet." And while I've always understood this from an intellectual, theoretical point of view, I never thought much about the practical implications. But it is true. The Kingdom of God does exist here wherever there is goodness, love, compassion, faith and peace. But to the extent that there exists violence, hatred, war, oppression, indifference to the suffering of others, then the Kingdom has a long way to go.

In his Angelus address on Sunday, September 1, Pope Francis asked that all people of goodwill take tomorrow (Saturday, September 7) as a day of prayer and fasting for peace. He called us to be men and women of peace and to ask God to grant us the great gift of peace in our world. Indeed. However, what is this peace of which we speak? 

Pope Francis went on to state, "It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and among peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace." A culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue. How can we begin to build this culture and promote its growth? Cultural change is never easy, nor is it swift. 

I am reminded of a song from GIA (the publisher of the ubiquitous Gather hymnals), Do Not Fear to Hope. Allow me to share with you a few lines:
Do not fear to hope! Though the wicked rage and rise. For God sees not as we see. Success is not the prize. Do not fear to hope! For though the night be long,the race shall not be to the swift, the fight not to the strong.
No. The culture of encounter and of dialogue that leads to lasting peace will not happen quickly - especially if we always seek to "win" or to "succeed." The win-lose mentality is not one that promotes peace. Nor is the culture of peace build by people who only seek their own success regardless of the implications for others. These mentalities are so prevalent all around us, but it is certainly not a hopeless situation...

If we feel it is hopeless, we are underestimating many things. One, we underestimate the power of prayer. Sometimes people become discouraged in prayer - "I prayed for thus-and-such and nothing happened." And perhaps it's true that a situation doesn't change immediately. But what always happens is that those who pray are changed - hearts are opened, insight given, courage and strength to continue to do the right thing.... Second, I believe we underestimate what a small group of people can bring about. Sociologist Margaret Mead once wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." People say it so often that it's become cliche, but just because it's cliche doesn't mean it's not true. Lastly, it seems to me that people can sometimes underestimate what God can do. For what might seem impossible to us, is possible for God. Do we have the courage to trust that?

Tomorrow evening I will gather with faculty, staff, students and other Marianists (lay and religious) at the University of Dayton for a vigil for peace. And as we pray for peace in our troubled world and peace in human hearts, I will also pray that we not forget our role in building peace.  

Peace to the hearts of all who read this.
Sr. N