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.