Although the prophet Micah spoke about the future coming of the Messiah as a prince of peace, the remnant from Israel and Judah would come to largely anticipate a warrior savior (see Micah 5:1-4). They had been conquered and downtrodden. They had paid a heavy price for their infidelity but God had not utterly turned his face from them. Interestingly, they saw themselves punished for compromising their faith and trust in God while throughout the centuries they were mocked by the conquering peoples for their fidelity to the ancient faith and the God of Abraham.
“He himself will be peace” (Micah 5:4). It is true, but the peace of God in Jesus Christ is a gift with which we still struggle and misunderstand. Certainly, one dynamic of it is peace between peoples. But, this is not simply a lack of belligerence. The peace of the Good News is radical and all-embracive. We turn on our televisions and open our newspapers and there are almost daily reports of dead soldiers overseas. Everyone is on guard against terrorists and now it looks like North Korea has a nuke that can reach the West Coast. The new millennium is starting to look an awful lot like the old one. The problem remains the same; there can be no true and lasting peace until there is a change in our minds and hearts. Early Christians prided themselves on not resisting aggression. They turned the other cheek and they announced forgiveness to their murderers in imitation of Christ. They also suffered and died in droves. After about three centuries of facing the sword, fiery stake, cross, and wild beasts, believers took up armaments in the service of a would-be emperor, Constantine. Their bets proved fortuitous and Christianity would emerge as the privileged religion of the empire. However, as history shows us, such a victory would not guarantee perpetual peace and harmony.
What do we mean by “peace?” Despite the collapse of European Stalinism, the Asian communists understand it in two ways. First, it is a ploy used with enemies to insure time and resources in building up an arsenal to wage war. Second, it is the integration of each person as an instrument of the state and such an amalgamation is not complete until the whole world is part of the Marxist mechanism. While there is diversity in Islam, the business about the very word for their religion meaning “peace” is somewhat inexact. Before entering Afghanistan and Iraq, Western leaders almost fell over each other in explaining that our actions were against a few terrorists and dictators, not against Islam. There was no new crusade. Such clarifications were appropriate, even if they did over stress a point. Interviews with Islamic moderates in the U.S. do not reflect the positions of many fundamentalists worldwide. Islam is not all the same. Would we ask an average member of a Baptist congregation about Roman Catholicism? No. A cursory reading of the Koran makes it evident that peace is understood as the submission of all to Islam, if need be with force. Unless it is rejected or mitigated, such a mindset will never acknowledge religious freedom and always stand in opposition to the West. After all, how can one have true peace with the “Great Satan,” a widespread label for the United States? As for ourselves, how do we understand peace? Lack of aggression is certainly part of it, as in our desire for security; and justice is a theme we hear much about as well, but how far do we go to achieve the peace we crave? Pearl Harbor and 9-11 have fueled our mistrust of much of the world. Apart from the politics of late, there is the danger of creating a mentality that perverts a command of Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (see Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12). It becomes, rather, “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” This is not purely a global strategy, but how many people live their lives.
The Jewish understanding of SHALOM or peace is a salutation and benediction of friendship and cooperation. It is an invocation of divine blessing, for health, prosperity, and good standing with God. At Mass, Catholics extend the sign of peace to one another. We are one in the Lord. We are all brothers and sisters who should love and care about one another. Peace is the realization of divine love in our lives. At least these understandings are what should be present; however, enmity, a lust for revenge, and various forms of racism can get in the way. Here is the tragedy. Peace is not simply an enemy staying on his side of the fence. It is about the removal of walls and fences. It is about mutual good will and cooperation.
The peace among nations must also reflect a peace among fellow citizens, in the Church, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and in us as individuals. Should it surprise us that when the world is at war that our small part of it should also suffer unrest? Are there people with whom we refuse to associate? Are there family members who have not spoken for years? Did we get mad at someone and deliberately hurt them? Did someone do this to us? Do we pray for our enemies and try to forgive? Do we look for forgiveness from God so as to live in peace with him?
The martyrs of the Church knew the peace of God even when there was nothing left for them to do in defense of their lives. They knew that no matter what the world should strip away from them, they had an imperishable treasure in heaven. They knew that God loved them and that they were friends of Jesus. May we learn this lesson too and know the peace that the world cannot give.
Hebrews 10:5-10 stresses that had there been no Christmas there would have been no Good Friday and Easter. God, himself, took on our humanity that we might share in his divinity (see the prayer for mixing water into the wine at Mass). Jesus enters the human family so that he could offer up his life as an oblation for all the sins of the world. Jesus is the faithful servant who makes his flesh the sign of the new covenant with God. The New Law builds upon and replaces the Old.
It begins very simply. There is a message from an angel. Then there is the visitation. Mary greets Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist leaps in the womb (see Luke 1:39-45). Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and echoes the Hail Mary prayer, “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Next she says, “Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Elizabeth’s words are very telling and they are affirmed as from the Spirit of God. John’s actions here parallel his activity thirty some years later in the Jordan River when he baptizes Christ. The unborn prophet cannot speak but he moves his mother to speak for him. She affirms that the unborn Christ is already her Lord. Jesus is Lord from the womb. Since he is the Prince of Peace, this gives credence to the late Mother Teresa’s contention that there can be no peace in the world while we are at war with the child in the womb. Every child is a reflection of the Christ-child.
There is a temptation for homilists or preachers during Advent and Christmas to sidestep the pro-life message. Such Scripture readings as this make it hard to do so. Advent speaks against abortion as Christmas is a condemnation of infanticide and partial-birth abortion. Why are priests and deacons silent? Let me relate a personal experience from a few years ago. I mentioned the seasonal pro-life themes at a Christmas Mass. A couple of people stood up during the homily and remained standing throughout the liturgy. Several days later the bishop called in response to a letter. A woman wrote, “My daughter only comes to Mass a couple times a year and this priest ruined it for us! He had no business talking about abortion or saying how anyone guilty of it should go to Confession before receiving communion. My daughter cried all night. She swears that she will never go to Mass again and I will find another church! By the way, this will cost you all our very generous donations!” I think the money element is why I got in trouble. But my conscience was bothered because the purpose of every homily is to promote continued conversion and not the alienation of God’s people. I think I was right, and there was no particular condemnation of anyone, just a proclamation of the Gospel of Life; but, while my head understood, my heart has never stopped grieving for the strayed lost lamb. No names were given and I could not follow up the message, except in prayer.
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