Peace by Piece by Piece
The following is the seventh of an eight-part Advent series on the Beatitudes, which are found in the opening section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The Church considers the Beatitudes the very heart of Jesus' preaching.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Mt 5:9)
When I think of the word "peacemaker," two images come to mind.
One is archetypal — a hollow-eyed State Department official in the back room of a foreign embassy. He's holding his head in his hands. He's wasted by frustration after another excruciatingly stagnant attempt to broker peace between intransigent adversaries.
God bless him.
The other image is real and recent (and included above) — a photo taken last June at an historic encounter in the Vatican Garden when Pope Francis hosted the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas for an "Invocation for Peace in the Holy Land." After several hours, the two presidents, whose nations live in a state of mutual belligerency maintained by word and physical force, emerged beaming, hands joined in a hearty handshake, foreheads nearly touching.
God bless them.
This was no starched encounter for the cameras, two enemies standing stiff, their coiled contempt pressed into a shallow template of hospitableness. No, they seemed to truly like each other. They walked into that meeting as leaders of nations. They emerged as envoys of the human heart, renewed and rerouted to the cause of personal kinship.
But what makes the image a most striking portrait of peacemaking is Pope Francis — his expression as he looks upon the two men. He's not smiling. He's not frowning. He's leaning in a bit, as a guardian of a precious thing. He's like a proprietor of a china shop, wakeful and watchful, prepared to catch from falling a delicate vase being handled by two prospective buyers.
As you probably know, that vase of Middle East peace continued to be mishandled in the weeks that followed the Vatican meeting. It did, indeed, continue to fall and shatter under forces applied by politics and the ancient code by which vendetta begets vendetta. In other words, shattered by forces — by principalities — beyond the control of two men in the Vatican Garden.
Yep, peacemaking is not for the faint of heart. Peace comes at a price, and in his remarks that day in June, the kindhearted, world-wise leader of the Catholic Church who was neither smiling nor frowning explained the price. "Peacemaking," he said, "calls for courage, much more so than warfare" — the courage "to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity."
But as he knows — as we all know — throughout history, peace has been bought, then sold, then bought again, a tedious tale spun by a fallen people prone to trespassing, prone to carelessness, prone to recklessness. We have cherished peace. We have manhandled it. We have dropped it. We have reassembled it.
But the peacemakers mentioned by Christ in the Beatitudes are those whose principled commitment to peace is first telescoped to their own hearts. Peace begins with us, individually, with the recognition that there is no peace apart from God. And unlike, say, peace in the Middle East, it is a peace within our own span of control. True peace begins when, with contrite hearts, we seek to restore our relationship with God the Father through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The cause of unrest — in our hearts, in our families, in the Middle East, in the world — is sin. Period.
Perhaps the most succinct and consciousness-shaking utterances Jesus makes to St. Faustina is, "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 300). They should teach that at the State Department, from the steeples to the jails and crosshatched from all latitudes and longitudes around the globe, because therein Christ has enclosed our first obligation in this life: Make peace with God. Make peace with God and become peacemakers in the pattern of the Prince of Peace Himself. Make peace with God so that we may foster peace in ourselves, in our families, in our community — through prayer and dialogue, through taking chances, through personal risk. Make peace with God and believe in the possibility of world peace itself, even in a floodtide of evidence that points otherwise.
"We have heard a summons, and we must respond," said Pope Francis on that day in June. "It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word 'brother.' But to be able to utter this word, we have to lift our eyes to heaven and acknowledge one another as children of one Father."
We are called to be heaven's envoys, wakeful and watchful. We are called to be peacemakers — because the world is a precious thing.
• Part One: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
• Part Two: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."
• Part Three: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land."
• Part Four: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied."
• Part Five: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
• Part Six: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God."
• Part Seven: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
• Part Eight: "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."