THE sight of United Nations peace-keeping forces has become quite familiar. We see them in the media whenever there is news about war-torn countries. Made up of soldiers from various nations, the peacekeepers help to make the host country more secure.
In a world wracked by conflict today, whose job is it to keep the peace? To answer this question we first need to understand what peace really means. In Scripture, peace is not just the absence of war. It is much more than that. The original Hebrew word for peace in Scripture – “Shalom” – connotes completeness and that all is well. Peace in Catholic social teaching means life to the fullest, which includes right relationships with God, self and others.
The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) describes peace as “the fruit of that right ordering of things with which the divine founder has invested human society and which must be actualised by man thirsting after an ever more perfect reign of justice”. (Gaudium et Spes, 78).
This “right ordering of things” is what we need to seek. What does a “right ordering of things” look like? Catholic social teaching gives us a good idea: respect for the dignity of every human being, solidarity among all peoples, striving for the common good, upholding the universal destination of goods, caring for creation and so on. The promotion of peace is therefore a very apt principle with which to conclude this series on the Church’s social teaching. So whose job is it to keep the peace? It is everyone’s job. We are all members of God’s peacekeeping force!
Peace is something we must each seek pro-actively. For example, do we address situations of injustice or simply go along with what others do (or not do), even if it affects the dignity of certain people? Do we share our resources and help meet the needs of others in the community, especially the most vulnerable? Do we enable others to actively participate in the development of society? Pursuing peace and striving for the “right order of things” is the responsibility of every Christian once we are baptised into the life and mission of Christ. It is what Scripture refers to when it speaks of the reign of God’s Kingdom, which we all have a duty to help bring about.
Promoting peace is therefore not an optional extra. Sometimes we feel the tendency of not speaking up or standing up for something we believe in for fear of rocking the boat. We avoid confronting an issue so as to “keep the peace”. But keeping the peace is not about keeping quiet. It is about seeking what makes for a greater fullness of life. For example, a relationship between two people can flourish only when they deal honestly, openly and respectfully with each other on the challenges that confront them. Peace is also not possible without forgiveness and reconciliation. In our zeal to “do good” we sometimes forget this.
Even as we try to perform a service for someone or make a contribution to the community, we fail to promote peace if our actions actually cause disunity and resentment among those we work with. Getting our point across through violent means is also never the answer. Sadly, in our world today, we see extreme forms of this in the increasing trend of terrorist acts.
The violence that destroys peace is also not merely physical violence. It takes subtle forms that we encounter in daily life too: divisive attitudes in our family or workplace, prejudice in society, abusive treatment and any other violation of the natural order of things. As Pope John XXIII points out in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), the key to peace is in seeking what is common among us, in looking for similarities rather than differences.
This happens when people meet to “discover better the bonds that unite them together”. At the core, what cuts through our social status, ethnicity or ideological leanings is the common human nature that we all share. And this common nature requires, above all, that it is love and not fear that defines the relationships among us.
As God’s peace-makers, let us reflect on the following: • How closely does my family, my workplace and my community reflect the “right order of things”? • How am I called to promote peace in these situations? – By CSCC