In these difficult times, is it really possible to let go of our fears and strive to be peacemakers? Many of us are still struggling to get by and simply maintain our daily routine some six months after Sept. 11.
We forget all too easily that Jesus wants to become our Peace. He calls us to trust in His love for us, to hold fast to His words in Scripture, and to ask Him for the peace our world so needs. His "perfect love drives out fear" (1 Jn 4:18). Only Jesus can give us peace and empower us for the task of peacemaking.
Yet, we also need to understand our current situation and the fears we face.
It's become almost commonplace to hear it said that since Sept. 11, "everything's changed." And indeed, many things have. What are some of the things that have changed as a result of the shocking terrorist attacks on our nation?
For one thing, we're now in a war! We hear that on Sept. 11, war was declared on the United States, indeed, on the whole civilized world. Some even say that World War III has already begun. They view this as a war now not of nation against nation, but of trans-national networks of terrorists dedicated to the total destruction of the nations they are targeting in the service of their religious and ideological goals. President George W. Bush has clearly stated on numerous occasions that indeed we are involved in a war. In January, the U.S. sent troops to the Philippines to help root out terrorism there.
This war has already cost us billions of dollars as a country not only for the direct costs of the successful military campaign in Afghanistan, but also for the immense cost of increased security in the United States, as well as for its strong impact on our economy. The U.S. government has already had to inject billions of dollars into the airlines to help them avoid bankruptcy.
A time of fear and uncertainty
As a result of all this, many of us are living in fear of future terrorist attacks. We hear talk of "dirty" nuclear bombs smuggled into the country in suitcases. We know that terrorists are experimenting with plastic explosives hidden in shoes.
Our government is ordering millions of doses of smallpox vaccines and anthrax antidotes. We hear that there are probably many "sleeper" cells of terrorists in our country ready to be activated. We have already lived through several "high alerts," warning us of possible terrorist attacks.
We also hear of the deep-seated, mutual hatred in the Middle East that manifests itself in such tragic ways in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we know, that at any moment, this "tinder-box" could flare up and engulf much of the world in conflict.
Then there's Iraq. And the conflict between India and Pakistan. It seems that the optimistic times we experienced after the collapse of communism and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall are now gone. The lull between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the "war of terror" was all too short!
Fear is useless
The most normal reaction to all of this is worry, fear, and anxiety. In fact, if we didn't feel any of these negative emotions, we wouldn't be human. On the other hand, Jesus tells us point blank in the Gospel: Fear is useless. Stop worrying!
What astounding advice! How can He say such a thing! On what basis does He make such bold, blunt, challenging statements?
Because He knows what's important and what isn't. He knows what's helpful and what's not. And He knows the Father's plan for bringing good out of even the most evil of situations, even death on a cross.
But He also knows what lies on the other side of the cross: the great glory of the resurrection and eternal life -- a kingdom of peace and justice, a kingdom where human beings and God are united in a communion of eternal bliss.
Jesus knows that in the midst of suffering, of fear, of death, the most important thing for us to do is to listen, to trust, and to do "whatever He tells" us (Jn 2:5). Worry, fear, and anxiety are blocks to maintaining that relationship with the Lord that equips us with the peace, wisdom, and courage we need to face any situation.
Jesus and the apostles make strong and frequent statements about the need to let go of our fear and anxiety and trust in the Lord.
Growing in trust
Let me share with you some of the Scripture passages that have helped me a great deal to grow in trust and peace when faced with fearful possibilities. Rather than just give the references and paraphrase them, I'd like to give you the actual Scripture, which has a power and ability to change your heart. If one of these passages connects with you, paste it on your bathroom mirror or the door of your refrigerator. Keep it in your heart! These are words that the Lord is truly speaking to you. In the passages, the use of italics is mine for emphasis.
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows" (Lk 12:4-7).
Jesus is saying that in the last analysis, the only thing that matters is whether we end up in heaven or hell. The only thing ultimately to fear is the loss of God forever. If we die in friendship with Christ, our life is a resounding success. If we die unrepentant, our life is a tragic failure. Having this "eternal perspective" helps us keep lesser things in perspective!
"As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides" (Lk 12:29-31).
This passage has meant so much to my wife and myself. In our journey through life, the Lord has provided in various ways through different jobs, but we have always known that the primary source of the provision was not our employer, but the Lord Himself. Over 30 years of marriage and six children have proven this promise of God to be true many times over. It's true for you, too.
God's love -- antidote to our fear
The apostles carry this teaching on trust forward and apply it to the Christian life.
Paul tells us: "Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:4-7).
Practically speaking, fears and anxiety will rise up frequently in our hearts. What we need to do is to bring them to the Lord and try as much as possible to leave these concerns with Him.
Peter boldly exhorts us: "Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts." (1 Pt 3:13-15).
The world is consumed with fear on all levels. Christians are called not to fear what the world fears, but to keep focused on the Lord and live in the peace, joy, and hope of eternal life.
I remember one day I was on an overseas trip for my ministry. I was sitting next to a Christian man who was married and had five children. He was on his way back to his family in one of the most dangerous and unstable countries of Africa. He was helping a Christian mission there. I asked him if he wasn't afraid to be in this dangerous country with his wife and children. His answer has stayed with me: "I would be more afraid to be in the United States not doing God's will than to be in Africa doing God's will. The safest place to be is to be doing God's will, wherever that is!"
This kind of confidence is key for us also. The only antidote to fear and terror is to know the perfect, powerful, pure, passionate, and personal love of Jesus for each one of us. It is that love that sets us free.
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because He first loved us" (1 Jn 4:18-19).
The only antidote to death and our fear of it is to be in personal relationship with the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus Christ Himself. We are to actively give over our anxieties and worries to the Lord and trust in Him to care for us. Then, He will show us the way to lasting peace in every situation.
Called to peace
But it is not enough just to seek peace for ourselves. It is our noble calling to be peacemakers in a time of war. Jesus tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called children of God" (Mt 5:9).
It's important that we live in that close relationship with Jesus through the Sacraments and prayer, which allows Him to establish His peace in our hearts, but then we are urged to act. We are to love one another, to reach out and offer hospitality, to practice the works of mercy, and to use our gifts to build up the Body of Christ and bless the world.
The Apostle Peter counsels us: "Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Pt 4:9-11).
This means seeking peace in all our relationships, insofar as it lies within our power. It means reaching out for reconciliation, being willing to forgive, and not nursing grudges and resentments. It means serving as Jesus did by washing the feet of His disciples. It means using our gifts to help others.
The heart of a peacemaker
And our love needs to extend beyond the Christian community, even to our enemies! "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?" (Mt 5:44-47).
Along with prayer for our enemies, we should pray for our leaders and for those who are suffering most through this time of war. This kind of intercessory prayer reaches beyond our own immediate needs to form in us the heart of a peacemaker. Mary and numerous popes -- including Pope John Paul II -- have told us how important it is to pray for peace and what a wonderful form of intercessory prayer the rosary can be.