If Only You Knew What Makes for Peace

I am at the Eastern Point Jesuit Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, part of the retreat team for an Ignatian Colleagues Program Retreat. Yesterday, I offered the reflection at our Mass speaking about the reading from Luke’s Gospel where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Following is a redacted version of my remarks.

In his first public teaching, Jesus included as one of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.  And in today’s Gospel, as he is reaching the end of his public ministry and moving toward his passion and death, Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, saying “If you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

The words that follow (which talk about the coming days when their enemies will smash them) suggest Jesus may have been weeping at the disaster that would befall the city when the Romans destroyed it.  Perhaps he was also weeping at a city that had killed prophets in the past – and that was about to kill him. 

Is Jesus weeping over us today?  Can it be that – despite all of his teaching and despite centuries in which to learn the lesson – we still do not know what makes for peace?

Maybe we should be weeping over ourselves, since sadly, we surely cannot dispute Jesus’ statement.  “If you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes.

Five or so years ago, I saw a one-person play titled An Iliad, performed at the Great River Shakespeare Festival.  The play is a revisiting of Homer’s epic tale, distilled by a single character, a war-torn poet.  The most riveting part of the play for me began with the poet saying, almost off-hand “I remember one time, a hot day during the conquest of Suma” – he paused –  “I mean the conquest of Sarna” – another pause – “I mean the Trojan war.” Another pause, at which point he straightened up and looking straight ahead and standing motionless, he somberly began to recite a list of wars.  For well over three minutes, he chillingly listed at an increasingly rapid pace every war that has been fought from ancient Greece through the Crusades through the World Wars and all the conflicts up to the present day.  It took more than three minutes to list them!

I sat in my seat and felt tears begin to well up.  I almost couldn’t breathe at the enormity of what humans have done to each other over and over and over again through the centuries. 

At what we are still doing to each other.  As we sit here today, we are entering the eighth month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ongoing civil war in Myanmar is officially the longest civil war in the world.

And that listing I experienced that day – which would take even longer today (each time the play is performed more wars have to be added) – that listing just included outright civil wars or wars between nations.  To that we need to add:

  • The viciousness of our political discourse – which includes demonization and untruths about those with whom we disagree.  That certainly doesn’t make for peace.
  • The callous disregard for the least among us.  Not a prescription for peace.
  • The refusal to acknowledge that we are annihilating the very earth on which we live.  It is impossible to even imagine what conflicts will inevitably arise as increasing parts of our world become uninhabitable.

Blessed are the peacemakers.  If you only knew what makes for peace.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is not enough to talk about peace.  One must believe in it.  And it isn’t enough to believe in it.  One must work at it.”  Robert Fulghum once said, “Peace is not something you wish for.  It’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.”

We are called by Christ to be people of peace. 

I went on in my reflection to talk about what it means to both believe in the possibility of peace and to live as people of peace. I ended with the Pax Christi Vow of Nonviolence, which you can find here.

Note: Although not the performance I watched, you can watch the portion of An Iliad listing wars here.


Journeying With God

MysticMag is an online publication covering articles of interest on metaphysical services, holistic health and wellness, and spiritual guidance. They just posted an interview with me, asking questions like who God is for me, how I view my calling, my approach to giving retreats and so on. You can read the full interview here.

Here is how I answered the first question they posed:

Why do you think the quest and understanding of religions and spirituality has been so prominent throughout your life?

My first reaction is to want to turn the question around: How can it be that the quest and understanding of spirituality is not prominent in everyone’s life? But let me try to answer the question in the way you framed it.

From the earliest age, I sensed that there was more than this world, something beyond this human existence; that as wonderful as this world and life could be, it was not enough. In the words of on Hindu writer, worldly pleasure “is essentially private, and the self is too small an object for perpetual enthusiasm.” Augustine expressed something similar in Christian terms, writing in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

It is that sense of something more, something beyond, that had made my spiritual searching so prominent throughout my life. That searching has included studies of many of the world’s major religions as well as a significant period of my life practicing Buddhism before returning to my Christian roots.

Someone Through Whom We Catch a Glimpse of What God is Like

Today the Catholic Church celebrates All Saints Day, a celebration of all of the Saints

Kenneth Woodward, former Newsweek religions editor, defined a saint as “someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like – and of what we are called to be.”

One could say that we have all we need in Jesus to see what we are called to be.  And there is truth to that: Jesus Christ incarnated was fully human and is, of course, the supreme example of human holiness.  His heart was totally open to the gift of God’s love.

But while Jesus is the ultimate model for our lives, it is too easy for people to say (or at least think even if they don’t say it out loud) – “yeah, well easy for him – he was God after all.  So of course it was easier for him than for me.”  For all that we give lip service to our understanding that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, we all  (at least a little bit) act as thought he had a leg up on us as a human because of his Godhood.

And that is where I think the saints are helpful to us.   They serve as examples about whom we can’t say – oh well, he or she was God.  No:  He or she was human – just like us.  These human beings heard Jesus’ call and followed it.

Saints provide examples to us, models, they can inspire us and give us strength for own journeys. The fact that those we called saints – flesh and blood humans like us –  transcended their weaknesses means we can also.  The idea is not to say, “oh well, she’s a saint – she’s special, not like us.  But instead to say if he or she transcended their weakest parts to allow their better parts to shine, I can too.

But saints do more than model sin transcended.  They also help us understand how God works in the lives of individuals.  James Martin, in his wonderful book My Life with the Saints, writes:

Each saint was holy in his or her unique way, revealing how God celebrates individuality.”  And he cites C.L. Lewis, who wrote in Mere Christianity, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints. This gave me enormous consolation, for I realized that none of us are meant to be Therese of Lisieux or Pope John XXIII or Thomas More.  We’re meant to be ourselves, and meant to allow God to work in and through our own individuality, our own humanity.

Remembering the saints also reminds us that we don’t go it alone, that there are others who have gone before us, who have faced what we face.   Others whose companionship gives us strength for our own journey.  Through the saints we come to meet individuals who had particular strengths we might want to emulate and who also had the same difficulties we struggled with.  And that is a source of encouragement.

Blessings on this All Saints Day.