Peacemakers in an age of conflict

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Each time we seek reconciliation, the Body of Christ is healed — and thus the world is healed

At this time of New Year’s resolutions, I would like to propose one for everyone’s consideration: Let us become people of peace.

Over the past several years, the world and our nation have experienced an escalation of conflict, urban violence and acts of deadly terror. To call these situations worrisome is an understatement. Though the location and scale of conflict might at times seem far from us, all violence and dissension are of a piece. Thus, all efforts at peacemaking are also of a piece. How we live personally, every day, in our corner of the world, makes a difference.

With the passing of years, I have asked myself what I could do about conflicts big and small. I have had to examine my conscience, my defensiveness, my pet peeves, my prejudices, my knee-jerk reactions, my thoughtless commentary and my habitual way of behaving, to ask whether I would be strong and humble enough to be a man of peace.

Could I turn the other cheek, admit my mistakes and ask forgiveness, and govern my tongue both in public and in private? Would I refuse to add to the fray, excise sarcasm from my speech and put an end to gossip? Would I scrutinize my anger when it flared up, let go of hurts and truly — truly — forgive when I have been wronged? In all these circumstances, as an act of faith and discipleship, would I take on the mind and heart of Christ?

My failure and God’s mercy

The answer, of course, was and is that I genuinely desire these things; but the reality is too often far from the mark. I am on the way, trying to stay the course, but I am ever dependent on God’s mercy for my failure to be a peacemaker each time an opportunity presents itself. Unbridled hostility and deliberate acts of aggression injure our families and our communities, but they also injure the Body of Christ.

We can feel helpless in the face of the suffering, violence and aggression that afflict the world. The Church responds on the ground in virtually every spot on the globe, and Christian martyrdom is still very much a fact of life. The extraordinary, heroic work done by so many in the name of Christ inspires and challenges us. Many people put their lives on the line in the cause of peace precisely because of their faith in Christ.

However, there is one significant response we might overlook for its seeming insignificance: reconciliation “on the ground” in our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our nation. Do we give enough attention to one-on-one forgiveness and reconciliation when we have wronged others or when others have wronged us? Do we humbly ask for forgiveness and seek to forgive? Do we avoid saying or doing anything that would cause or add to division and conflict? Are we people of peace?

A deliberate, personal effort

At this time when violence seems to erupt at every turn in every place, a deliberate, personal effort at reconciliation with someone with whom we are at odds counters the evil of violence and reveals the presence of Christ. “I am afraid I have offended you. Will you forgive me?” “For reasons I don’t understand, we seem to be constantly at odds. Why don’t we sit down and talk things out?”

For a variety of reasons, reconciliation can be extremely difficult. It can call for patience with ourselves and with others, especially when the hurt is deep. There are times when, for the sake of prudence, we would not mention to another that he or she has offended us. There are times when we are ready to be reconciled but receive instead a cold, hostile shoulder. There are also times when our hurt is so deep that we cannot muster from within even the desire to forgive and have to challenge ourselves at least to be open to forgiveness. In such challenging circumstances, we still have the responsibility in Christ to forgive — or to ask for the grace to forgive when we find it difficult to do so — even if no personal reconciliation is possible.

It is entirely possible that we become so accustomed to being at odds with someone that we dismiss (wittingly or unwittingly) the possibility of reconciliation, thus allowing a situation to harden into concrete and further harm ourselves, our family, our community.

Violence at any level begets violence. Christ’s peace begets peace. Each time we seek reconciliation with another, the Body of Christ is healed — and thus the world is healed.

Perhaps in the year ahead all of us can begin in a deliberate way to ask the Lord’s help to heal any inner violence we allow to fester, so that we can be instruments of his peace. One act of reconciliation in the name of Christ gives a martyr’s witness that in him violence never triumphs.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - January/February 2017

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.