“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5)
The great theme of Lent is repentance. That is the turning of our minds and hearts to God. The fact is that we can only do this through the work of Christ. He is the great Peace-Maker; He makes our repentance possible by His reconciling work.
To face Christ is to see a vast mystery since in seeing Christ we see God Himself. To see Christ on the cross is to see God actively reconciling us to Himself. St Paul says as much in his letter to the Colossians at Chapter 1 verse 20.” “For God was pleased .. through Him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Peace is the knitting together of the damaged relationships in the world. It is like the healing of a broken bone. Peace making is about reconciliation. It means mutual harmony and goodwill. It means growing mutual love, since love, amongst its other shades of meaning, requires that we seek the best interests of the other. Peace is not just the absence of war; it means a positive state of mutuality, support, of living and being able to function properly in healthy relationships with others.
Peace means we can deal with each other with mutual respect and in service one to another. This is the witness of our common life in the Church.
The ultimate demonstration of love is the cross. Christ endured the most humiliating of deaths, death at its most brutal and harrowing, because He loves us. He summed up human life, a life lived to perfection. Indeed He sums up all things in Himself (Ephesians 1 v 10).
Hate and war are the denial of peace and love; they are a refusal of the holy work of justice and of reconciliation. However, the Church’s teaching in this matter has never been exclusively pacifist; according to which there is a legitimate use of force in self-defence or in the defence of others before an aggressor. Nonetheless, as individuals we are told to love. In Matthew 5 v 44, Christ says: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
This means forgiving those who harm us, letting go of the urge to punish and exact penalties, to demand reparation before forgiveness. In just the same way Christ let go of our sins. In the world our falling short might demand punishment but in the kingdom of God what we are offered instead is simply unconditional love.
So how do we achieve this blessed state of being peacemakers and children of God?
Part of the answer lies with the hierarchs of the Church. They engage with society and the social order in an official and representative capacity. Their responsibility is to work for peace at that level. In this, we ought to support them.
Most importantly each one of us as Christians has a role in peace making both quietly and unofficially. Peace starts with each one of us as individuals. It has been said that “Peace begins with me”. If you let go of the pain and forgive, then you can begin to love. To see someone who is lost and confused by the hatred they have experienced leads one to stand by that fellow human being and to soothe his pain. This in turn means that we can pray more effectively for him.
We can also do more. We are people and citizens. The effect of loving people in a society cannot be underestimated. We are indeed the light of the world. We gather and receive the sacraments. We also leave after services renewed and empowered by God Himself. Everywhere we go, everything that we do is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Much has been said about secularism in the modern west, that religion has become a mere private matter and that there is no expression of faith in the work place or the school, or in our social dealings. The official line is indeed very secular and hostile to religion in public. We have all heard of doctors being criticised for mentioning God to patients, or of council meetings not starting with prayer and so forth. We must resist this narrowing of the focus of faith to the private sphere with all our might. After all, we are still Christians when we shop, when we work, when we vote, when we socialise with others. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence. How can we work for peace when society tries to keep us shut up inside our churches, safely and out of the way? This is not possible!
We have practical possibilities as peace makers in society all the time. Every time we help a neighbour we are showing the love of Christ.
Sometimes we can listen to someone and give them time to work out the problems they may have with others and help them to resolve these issues. In this we are not partial of course but through our impartial active good will we can help resolve disputes.
Every time we talk with a person of a different faith we can show tolerance, acceptance and respect. The recognition that God loves all people is a great step towards defusing sectarian hatred. It may proceed by small steps, one individual at a time, but very often that is how progress is made. All these things build trust, harmony and love. If we all do this then society changes for the better.
These actions filter back of course. Our Muslim neighbour probably has family back in the home country. If they see Christians as caring people and not mere apostates from the truth of Islam then that makes a great witness as well. Your conversations in Chorlton and Levenshulme can even have an impact on conflicts and misunderstandings in Pakistan or Afghanistan as well as improving community relations in our own neighbourhoods.
I know on the other hand that some people are resistant and do inflame tension and sectarianism by their words and actions. We are all too familiar with the horrors of fundamentalist rants and bitterness. Such things are evil but we counter evil of course by doing good.
Doing good is indeed what reflects God. We are confused and powerless without Him and in turn we sow confusion and powerlessness when we depart from Him, but with the blessing of God we can show forth His love - even as He has shown His love for us.
As St Paul writes in his first letter to the Church at Corinth:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)