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Blessed are the peace-makers

There are many voices competing to set the value agenda for the Year of Faith, which runs through to November 24 next year. Pope Benedict is encouraging Christians everywhere to rediscover a taste for feeding themselves on the word of God.

A recurring theme in Jesus’ discussions with his disciples is peace.

At the end of his ministry here on earth, after his resurrection, he greeted the apostles with the words, “Peace be with you,” and at the beginning, in what is commonly known as the beatitudes, he says, “Blessed are the peace-makers.”

January 20 next year is set to be celebrated as Peace Sunday and peace is certainly one of the values that deserve good attention in our observance of the Year of Faith, which began on the anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.

When the council fathers came together in 1962, they did so in a world that still had vivid memories on World War II and, as they shuffled into their meetings in Rome, they did so in the chill of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, they remained convinced that God’s will for this world was universal peace, in which all could share.

While much of the council reflections revolved around reconciliation and reading the signs of the times, towards the end, the fathers turned their attention to fostering peace and establishing a community of nations.

Peace is not something that is achieved overnight, but rather needs constant attention. It involves a search for the common good and is grounded in love and justice.

In this context, war cannot be seen as an acceptable solution to any conflict.

Vatican II specifically targeted weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, as well as the resources wasted on their production at the expense of human development.

Father Rob Esdaile, from Pax Christi International, reflects in the Catholic peace organisation’s November-December newsletter, “Perhaps the most striking thing today is how relevant the Church’s teaching on warfare remains and how widely it is ignored, not least in the supposedly Christian west.”

A worthwhile contribution that any Christian or community can make to the Year of Faith is to work to respond to this call to conversion of Vatican II and ask what we can do to work for peace in the spirit of the council.

Once again we are being called to conversion and, once again, we are being asked, in the words of Pope Benedict, to redevelop our taste for the word of God and re-sensitise ourselves to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

What we do know is that we cannot do much by ourselves and we do need to work with others, which emphasises the value of at least marking Peace Sunday in the communities to which we belong.

We can begin by asking ourselves what is the gospel meaning of peace. We will find a good description in the beatitudes, which set out not to define what a Christian is, but describe the qualities that are the hallmark of a Christian.

This is how kingdom people are; poor in spirit, compassionate, gentle, with a thirst for justice and righteousness and merciful. Such people are certainly peace-makers. And yes, persecuted, spoken ill of, ridiculed and even ostracised. Our challenge in the Year of Faith is decide how much effort peace is worth. JiM