Pentecost 3

On the first January this year, Pope Francis delivered his usual message of peace to the world.  He urged us to remember the 250 million migrants worldwide of whom 22.5 million are refugees – men and women, young and elderly – people who are fleeing war and violence and searching for somewhere to live in peace.  Peace, the Pope says, is a profound aspiration that we all share and yet as we know, world peace seems to forever elude us. We have celebrated the birth of Jesus, he who is called the Prince of Peace, he who promised us: “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).  Where do we find peace in our world today?

One of the most damning accusations made against organized religion is, that far from bringing peace, religion is one of the main causes of war and division in our world today.  In reflecting on history we cannot help but think that, indeed, there seems to be some element of truth in that statement.   The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants that went on in Europe for hundreds of years, the extermination of Native Americans by the Christian conquistadores bringing the Gospel of Jesus to the newly “discovered” America… all seem to prove the point that, indeed, religion has, in many instances, been associated with violence.

And today, as we know, war is still being waged and atrocities are still being committed in the name of religion. Religion is being politicised and used to justify violence. Karen Armstrong points out in her book: “Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence” that wars were and are generally politically motivated.  She says: “The Crusades, though inspired by religious passion, were also deeply political: Pope Urban II wished to extend the power of the church eastwards and create a papal monarchy that would control Christian Europe;  the Spanish inquisition was a deeply flawed attempt to secure the internal order of Spain after a divisive civil war.   Similarly, the European wars of religion and the thirty years war were certainly exacerbated by the sectarian quarrels of Protestants and Catholics, but their violence reflected the birth pangs of the modern nation-state”. (Penguin 2014)

And as we know, fundamentalist regimes, such as atheistic communism have been responsible for great suffering and the extermination of people opposed to the regime. Today North Korea’s repression and brutality against its own citizens are well known.  A recent report from a special commission of the United Nations accuses North Korea’s atheist government of crimes against humanity.  “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the commission said.

Violence seems to be part of our human condition. In his excellent book, “Virtues for Another Possible World”. (Orbis Books. 2011), Leonard Boff analyses the various ways that peace is shattered by the many forms of violence in everyday life.  Violence is all around us and within us. He cites the violence of the patriarchial system where women and minorities are treated as less; the violence of the will to power and domination  and the ever present violence of injustice and poverty where half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population.  Boff also makes the point that we came into being in the original violence of the cosmos and so we carry violence within ourselves.  We are simultaneously homo sapiens and homo demens and this is due to our evolutionary constitution.  We are beings of intelligence and wisdom, capable of great generosity, love and forgiveness.  But at the same time, we can also be capable of great cruelty, impulses of aggression and death  (ibid:245.)

How are we to reconcile these two dimensions within us?   Boff tells us to face up to what is, to embrace the polarity sapiens/demens as belonging to the structure of the universe.  In other words, accept that we too have a darker side to our nature. But we must not be passive in  our acceptance and acknowlegement of our darker selves.  We should make every effort to strengthen the luminous side of these opposing forces.  We need to remember that the peace we long for has already been given to us. “ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27).

One of the best definitions of peace that I have come across is that given by the Earth Charter, that affirms: “peace is the plenitude that results from correct relationships with oneself, with other persons, other cultures, other forms of life, with the Earth and with the Whole of which we form a part” (1V: 16, f). Peace is the result of right relationships with the different realities that surround us. Without these correct relationships we will never enjoy peace.   During this coming year let us never forget that we have the power of peace within us because Jesus is with us and in us.  In fact he is our peace.