A blessed Christmas ‘Revolution’ of peaceBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
The world will tire of Christmas on Dec. 26, while in the Catholic Church, we are invited to ponder the mystery of the “Word made flesh” for weeks to come in the Christmas Season. Within the Christmas Season we celebrate the Feast of Holy Family, Dec. 30, Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1, Epiphany, Jan. 8, The Christmas Season culminates with the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9. Throughout the season, the Church continually invites us to return to the manger, to be of one heart with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, and to meditate on the significance of the birth of the Son of God.
World Day of Peace
For the past 50 years, beginning with Blessed Pope Paul VI, the pope has issued a message to mark Jan. 1, the World Day of Peace. Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen the theme “Nonviolence: A style of Politics for Peace.” In his message, he reminds the world that “the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our ‘deepest dignity’ …”
How true it is that when we lose sight of the dignity of each person we create a climate that allows violence to fester and explode?
Over this past year there have been so many unfortunate examples of the truth of that statement. So what is the alternative?
Pope Francis quotes Blessed Pope Paul VI, “Peace is the only true direction of human progress …” Any rejection of peace will only draw us farther into conflict and division. “When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking.” This answer, while challenging, should be no surprise. Did not Our Lord Himself say, “Turn the other cheek?”
“For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being; the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the “Christian revolution.” The Gospel command to love your enemies (Lk 6:27) is rightly considered the Magna Carta of Christian nonviolence.”
A ‘Christian Revolution!’
Pope Francis previously used the word “revolution” while being interviewed in 2015 for the upcoming Year of Mercy. In the interview, he called for a “revolution of tenderness” as part of the Year of Mercy. I would like to think that the revolution began with the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace, culminated on the Cross, and that it has continued these 2,000 years as His followers have tried to embrace and practice His teaching about nonviolence. While the Church has failed in this regard at times in the past, the Church has been a consistent voice for peace in our modern world.
Pope Francis reminds us that “the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart.” When I first read that line, it made me wince at its truth. I recall the old song we still sing at times, with the rather poignant refrain, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” As the Holy Father calls for the rejection of violence and invites us to a lifestyle of peace, the work must truly begin in the human heart. From there, peace may flow into the experience of each family.
As Pope Francis says, “The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another … by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy, and forgiveness. From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society.”
Building on that principle, I recall the words of St. John Paul II during his homily at the closing Mass of his visit to St. Louis in 1999, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.”
Throughout the world and in our own city streets, and yes, maybe within our own families, the temptation to turn to violence or revenge seems all too easy.
As we continue to celebrate the Christmas Season and enter into this new year, 2017, the Church invites Her members again and again to ponder the significance and the consequences of the birth of the Prince of Peace. Pope Francis ends his message invoking Mary, as the Queen of Peace: “All of us want peace. Many people build it day-by-day through small gestures and acts … may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words, and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people.…”
If we do what Pope Francis suggests, this new year 2017 may very well see the beginning of a Revolution of Peace!
A Blessed Christmas Season and Happy New Year to all!