Sunday, June 21

Theology of Peacemaking and Social Justice

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”- Matthew 5:9

“If you want peace, work for justice.” With these words, Pope Paul VI defined the forward momentum of modern Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Three major CST documents that inform a theology of peacemaking and justice include Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace and The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. These three documents suggest different forms of peace and different ways of reaching peace. If there are different kinds of peace, what exactly is “just and stable peace” we seek in this world? When we think of peace and peacemaking, the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Buddha or others may come to mind. Further, in 1981, the Commission on Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution recommended the establishment of the United States Academy of Peace.[1] This Commission determined that "peace is a legitimate field of learning that encompasses rigorous, interdisciplinary research, education, and training directed toward peacemaking expertise."[2]

This is one of the reasons for the CST concerning peace and war. It essentially has two purposes: to help Catholics form their consciences on ethical issues as well as contributing to the debate on public policy concerning war and all that it entails.[3] During the World War II, Pope Pius XII said, “Nothing is lost by peace, everything may be lost by war.”[4] This stance on peace has not shifted. Now, one of the more important CST documents is the aforementioned Pacem in Terris, a 1963 encyclical written by Pope John XIII. He had seen war firsthand, having served in the Italian army during World War I. Following the Berlin and Cuban Missile Crises, when the threat of nuclear war was at the forefront of the global mind, the Pope pleaded for peace between nations, as well as for disarmament and negotiation. In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II scolded the nations for using their force prematurely instead of restoring to peaceful negotiation.[5] It seems that the “battle” for peace continues.

Peacemaking is both deeply personal and a deeply social and political issue. It begs the question, “How do we live lives of love, truth, justice and freedom, and how do we advance these values through structures that shape our world?”[6] In order to move beyond the structures of sin, the world must move toward structures of peace. Consider the signs of the times. In the last century, the world has suffered two of the bloodiest and most catastrophic wars in all of history. Peace has not been fully achieved with the Treaty of Versailles, or the Camp David Accords, or other such agreements. Despite the efforts of the United Nations, human rights are not universally defended or recognized. Death squads still murder our children, sex tourism still make young children the victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, the gap still continues between the rich and the poor, and unrest and violence still continue.[7] Basic human rights are still being violated every day.

Further, although today nuclear war is not spoken of as much as it was during the Cold War it still remains as a looming problem. International injustices continue, as well as regional wars. The continuation of the arms trade, along with these other factors demonstrates that the world is still home to conflict.[8] Over 40,000 children die each day of hunger, and we see that “ethnic cleansing and systematic rape are used as weapons of war... people are denied life, dignity and fundamental rights, [and thus,] we cannot remain silent or indifferent. Nor can we simply turn to military force to solve the world's problems or to right every wrong.”[9] As such, the social teachings of the Church must empower believers and non-believers alike to take action. But the kind of action that should be taken is not agreed upon, leading to two primary approaches: pacifism and the “just war” theory.

Two Traditions: Pacifism and Just War Theory
Early on, the position of “total war” was rejected as being opposed to Jesus’ teachings, but around the time of St. Augustine in the 4th century, questions of “limited warfare” arose.[10] What became known as the “just-war” theory was used to justify the use of force against “unjust aggressors in certain circumstances as the most appropriate way to respond to the command to demonstrate love for others with all the means at our disposal.”[11] In the majority of CST documents, this stance is essentially assumed when war and peace are discussed.[12] In fact, although a number of the CST documents use phrases such as “never again war!”, it seems that the underlying position of the encyclical tradition is on the side of the just war theory.[13]

Although the evils that St. Augustine sought to eliminate appear to be rooted more in the internal evils rather than external evils, his understanding of just war was developed and carried forward. Writers began to speak of a “just cause” or a “righteous intention,” while others - supporting Christian pacifism - would cite passages such as Luke 6:29, “turn the other cheek...”. Proponents of the just war theory would in turn cite St. Augustine, saying “The purpose of all wars is peace.”[14] The just-war tradition is interested in overcoming injustice, reducing violence and preventing its expansion. It clarifies when force may be used and restrains damage caused by military during war.[15] At the same time, there are a number of individuals throughout Christian history who chose the path of pacifism. St. Francis of Assisi was one of these individuals. Aside from his personal efforts for peace, particularly with the sultan at Damietta, Egypt in 1219, he also implored the members of his Third Order not "to take up lethal weapons, or bear them about, against anybody."[16] Those who adhere to Christian pacifism will point out that Jesus did not attempt to fight back in order to save us life, but rather, rebuked those who tried to fight for him, such as St. Peter. There are a variety of traditions that follow pacifism, such as the Mennonites, the Catholic Worker movement started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and other lay movements, but it seems that much of the Church still holds firm to the just war theory.[17]

In regard to the issues themselves - the defense of human rights, nuclear disarmament,  and demilitarization are the major concerns of peacemaking on either side of the tradition. The National Catholic Conference of Bishops (NCCB) asks, for example, “How do we achieve Pacem in Terris' vision of a just and stable political order, so that nations will no longer rely on nuclear weapons for their security... we must continue to say no to the very idea of nuclear war... we abhor any use of nuclear weapons.”[18] Unfortunately, many seem to believe that in order for there to be peace in the nuclear arms matter, one country must stockpile their armaments just to safeguard themselves against the other nations. This power play then makes other nations feel that they must also be armed to be safe, which ends up creating a vicious cycle. As a result, those living within a given nation live in fear, as they are afraid that unspeakable violence could break out at any moment.[19] This is why there is a call for demilitarization. Every more than $275 billion is spent on the U.S. military, and world as a whole spends about $1 trillion.[20] In a world where there are still starving children, a gap between the rich and the poor, people who turn to pornography and sex slavery for money, and so forth, this money could go elsewhere.

In order for the human race to live in a more just and a more peaceful world, there also needs to be a promotion of human rights for the common good. These human rights include social, cultural, political, civil, economic, educational and other basic rights, as described in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and elsewhere. There has been progress over the last half-century or so in the global community particularly as a result of Non-Governmental Organizations, but this has not fully protected and upheld human rights. The root of the Catholic social perspective is the dignity of the human person, which thereby includes the rights which each individual is entitled to. As stated in “The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace”, “Building peace, combating poverty and despair and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral imperatives, but also wise national priorities. They can shape a world that will be a safer, more secure and more just home for all of us.”[21]

Moving Toward a Theology of Peacemaking
One of the more neglected aspects of peacemaking is a theology and spirituality of peacemaking. As the NCCB has said, “True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart.”[22] Thus, one may appeal to the heart of mercy. At the core of Christianity is the “God of peace" (Romans 15:33), who desires peace for all created beings (Psalm 85; Isaiah 57:19). Christians are called by the gospel to live at peace with everyone as much as possible (Romans 12:18), are called to be active peacemakers (Luke 6:35-36, 38), and called to spread the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

Consider the prophets. The prophet Ezekiel promised a covenant of peace and condemned the false prophets who claimed their was already peace and justice in Israel (Ezekiel 13:16). The prophet Jeremiah also followed this tradition and decried those who "healed the wounds of the people lightly" and preached peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:10-12). Both Jeremiah and Isaiah condemned the leaders of Israel when they leaned on their own strength and the strength of their allies as opposed to trusting God (Isaiah 7:1-9; 30:14; Jeremiah 37:10). Further, the lamentation recorded in Isaiah 48:18 makes a connection between justice, faithfulness to the law and peace, "O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea."

Groups such as Pax Christi, Plowshares, and the aforementioned Catholic Worker provide opportunities for building a more peaceful global community. Although the Catholic Worker is primarily known for its newspaper, the 1987 document “Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker” speaks of their approach to peacemaking, “Jesus calls us to fight against violence with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and noncooperation with evil. Refusal to pay taxes for war, to register for conscription, to comply with any unjust legislation; participation in nonviolent strikes and boycotts, protests or vigils; withdrawal of support for dominant systems, corporate funding, or usurious practices are all excellent means to establish peace.”[23]

On a more experiential level, during the Eucharistic Rite at Mass, following the Lord’s Prayer, the priest asks on behalf of the community, "graciously grant us peace in our day." Note the immediacy of this plea. Proceeding this the priest says, “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom.”[24] This is when the Sign of Peace is exchanged, as “our brother Jesus taught us.” Peace is at the very heart of the Eucharisitic celebration. This peace is not intended to be at Mass alone, but is to be carried out unto the whole world.

Evidently, peace and peacemaking are a large part of the Christian tradition, as can be seen from this brief selection. The gospel imperative to “go unto all the nations” is not only a baptism of water, but also an immersion in the transformative message of Christ. It is a deep conviction and calling to transform the structures of sin that are rooted in society and replace these structures with structures of peace and a community of love.

Application and Analysis
Sometimes conflict resolution may not be as big as nuclear threats or regional conflicts - we face day-to-day conflicts as well. In my own experience, when trying to handle conflict between myself and another person, I have found a number of techniques to try to find peace. For example, taking a few moments to breathe and simply listen to what the other person is trying to say, and recognizing what may be going on in their life can make all the difference. At times, when dealing with a personal situation I may write in my journal, I may speak with a close family member, and most certainly, I offer it up to God in prayer. The USCCB stated that the practice of contemplative prayer is helpful and valuable for “advancing harmony and peace in the world. For this prayer rises, by divine grace, where there is total disarmament of the heart and unfolds in an experience of love which is the moving force of peace. Contemplation fosters a vision of the human family as united and interdependent in the mystery of God's love for all people. This silent, interior prayer bridges temporarily the ‘already’ and ‘not yet,’ this world and God's kingdom of peace.”[25]

Although a more simplistic example, the following may provide a more practical application of peacemaking. While recently visiting a friend who was hosting a get-together, early on, a young man who I had not met before that evening became visibly and verbally upset - his phone was “missing.” For about a half hour, he went around shouting and threatening to call the police, claiming that someone stole the phone he had been charging. I gently took him aside, and listened to his story. I then suggested different ways we may go about this - having everyone put their phone on a table, asking everyone to empty their pockets, or searching room to room. After some searching and a few moments of assertiveness on my part, he discovered that he had dropped his phone in-between cushions on a couch, and after apologizing to everyone at the gathering, he thanked me for my help. He defended my honor later that evening and remained loyal to me - someone he had only met mere hours before. Thus, out of that effort, a relationship and respect was formed. This is an example of practical peacemaking.

A few years later, during a pilgrimage I went to Assisi, Italy. One evening, each of the pilgrims gathered at the top of the city to pray. Together, we prayed for peace. This was a continuation of what happened in Assisi in 1986, in which Pope John Paul II called the first Interreligious Prayer service. During this time, we used prayers from each of the major religious traditions, and when the prayer had ended, we all turned, and looked out onto the Umbrian Valley before us, and listened to a song. The song was sung by Josh Groban and said, “For tonight we pray for what we know can be, and on this day we hope for what we still can’t see. It’s up to us to be the change, and even though we all can still do more... there’s so much to thankful for.” In this beautiful moment of silence, I thought to myself, “the peace felt here cannot simply remain here; we must instead take it out into the world spread wide before us.” We must “go unto all the nations.”

“The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” - James 3:18

The efforts of the United Nations, the major religious traditions and their various social justice movements, and many others carry on to the present day. Each of us, regardless of religious tradition, nationality, political bent, or social statues, are called to cultivate peace. For the Christian, we see our calling as a service not only to the Prince of Peace - the God of Peace - but also as a service to each person throughout the larger human family. There are many issues still before us, and I do not pretend to have all of the answers. This is why we must continue to work together as brothers and sisters. Human trafficking is still a problem. Poverty still exists. Wars between nations and within nations still happens. Questions must still be asked about “just war” and pacifism.

There are many improvements in peacemaking efforts across the globe. The ever-expanding space program, for example, continues to be a global effort as demonstrated by our International Space Station. The United Nations also stands as a testament to this growing relationship between nations. But the world will never be the dwelling place of peace, until “peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved.”[26] There must be peace in the family. There must be economic justice. There must be peace for the prisoners and the captives. There must be peace for workers. There must be peace for the marginalized. If we are ever to have a “just and stable peace” in this world, we must continue our efforts to work for justice, as we move strive for a world built with love.

[1] National Catholic Conference of Bishops. Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. 229. 1983. Print.
[2] “To Establish the United States Academy of Peace: Report of the Commission on Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution”. Washington, D.C.: 1981. 119-120. Print.
[3] Challenge of Peace 16.
[4] Thomas, Massaro, S.J. "Peace and Disarmament." Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action. 1st Ed. ed. Franklin: Sheed & Ward, 2000. 155. Print.
[5] Ibid.
[6] National Catholic Conference of Bishops. The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace. November 17, 1993. Print.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[10] See Contra Faustus Book XXII (AD 400), Letter 138 to Marcellinus (AD 412), Letter 189 to Boniface (AD 418), City of God Books XV and XIX.
[11] Massaro 151.
[12] Ibid., 152.
[13] Ibid., 154.
[14] Letter 189 to Boniface.
[15] Harvest of Justice.
[16] Challenge of Peace 115.
[17] Massaro 153.
[18] Harvest of Justice.
[19] John XIII, Pope. Pacem in Terris: Peace on Earth. 1963. 110-111. Print.
[20] Harvest of Justice.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Massaro 157.
[24] Challenge of Peace 295.
[25] Ibid., 294.
[26] Pacem in Terris 165. 

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