Saturday, 19 January 2013

Peacemaking In The Year Of Faith

Fr. Rob Esdaile, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton, Surrey writes for Peace Sunday (20 January):
"Pope Benedict has asked the Catholic community to live 2013 as a ‘Year of Faith’, inviting us “rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the Word of God,”  in the face of the many competing voices and values of our day and age.  Of course, we always stand in need of renewal.  But there is a particular reason for holding such a Year of Faith right now, for the Second Vatican Council began its work of renewing the Church fifty years ago.  It’s time, says the Pope, to rediscover the teaching of that great gathering.

The theme of this year’s Peace Sunday (January 20th, 2013), “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” certainly fits very well with the aim of the Year of Faith.  It’s taken from the seventh of the nine Beatitudes (Mt 5.9) with which Matthew begins Jesus’ public ministry.  It’s a key text of Scripture.  But what does it mean for us today? To understand the Beatitudes properly, it’s important to see that they aren’t instructions.  Rather, they are descriptions of how ‘Kingdom People’ are:  poor in spirit, compassionate, gentle, thirsty for righteous, merciful, pure in heart, peace-making ... oh and (uncomfortably) persecuted and spoken ill of. Seeking the Kingdom gets them into trouble. But signs of the Kingdom of God happen if (and only if) people dare to live that way.

If we ask what Vatican Two has to say about peacemaking, the first thing to note is a trust in humanity.Those who gathered in Rome in 1962-5 had lived through the horrors of World War Two, while the shadow of the Cold War hung heavily over countries East and West. Yet, despite this, they remained convinced that God’s Love is capable of renewing all things and that God’s Will is a universal peace in which all are called to share.

From this flow two further insights:  the conviction that Christians are called to work for reconciliation (firstly, between the Churches, but then of the human community wherever there is conflict);  and the urgent call to read “the signs of the times”  – to interpret the events of our day and age, so that we can see where the Holy Spirit is touching people’s hearts, opening up pathways towards peace.  We Catholic Christians may not simply say that we’re ‘not interested’ in current affairs, because we believe that each person is our brother or sister and that the dignity of all matters.

At the end of Vatican II the Council Fathers turned to the urgent task of ‘Fostering Peace and Establishing a Community of Nations’.  Peace, we are reminded, “is more than the absence of war” and cannot be based on a balance of terror. It is a task that needs to be worked at constantly, a search for the Common Good, grounded in love and justice.  In contrast, modern warfare cannot be regarded as an acceptable way of resolving conflict. Vatican II condemns both the targeting of Weapons of Mass Destruction (notably nuclear missiles) on civilian populations and the wasting on the arms race of vast sums which could be used to help the poor. And the Bishops insist that all must work for disarmament and the end to the arms-race.

Re-reading this teaching after nearly half a century, perhaps the most striking thing is how relevant it remains and how widely the Church’s teaching on warfare is ignored, not least in the supposedly ‘Christian’ West. So, once again, we are being called to conversion.  Perhaps part of our own contribution to the Year of Faith could be undertaking to study Vatican II’s teaching on peace-making and then asking: What can I do to work for peace, in the spirit of the Council? Certainly, we cannot do much alone. We need others to work alongside.  And that is where the Catholic Peace Movement, Pax Christi, comes in – linking people who are committed to the work of making peace, providing resources, and fostering prayer and reflection regarding the meaning of the Gospel of Peace."

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