by Dan Miller
I am a Catholic and I want to be part of a peace church. I want the pope to declare that every parish built in the next one hundred years must be consecrated in the name of a peacemaker or a peace-related image or event. I want to join St. Maximilian the Resister Catholic Community, chant the mid-day psalms at Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Church, and go to vespers at Franz Jägerstätter Parish. I want my children’s children and their children to participate in the Thomas Berry or Sr. Dorothy Stang Ecojustice group at their high school or join the Dorothy Day Catholic Peace Fellowship at the university. I’d like to go to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Christ the Peacemaker Cathedral or participate in the Triduum at St. Oscar Romero Catholic Church. I dream of the day when people will associate Catholics with a commitment to peacemaking as readily as they do the Brethren, the Mennonites, and the Quakers.
We live in a time and place when the banners that hang from the lampposts that line the boulevards of our towns no longer are adorned with Season Greetings but with the names of young men and women in the military. When I drive by and see names like Sullivan, Rodriguez, Fortelli, Polanski, or Nguyen, I think, “Probably a Catholic kid.” And I wonder, before they signed up, did they even for a moment ask, “How do the business of soldiering and the deeds of war that are every soldier’s duty square with my Catholic faith and the gospel of Jesus?” I wonder if they heard anything around their kitchen table or in an 8th grade religion class or on a Confirmation retreat or in a Sunday homily about the non-violent gospel of Jesus that gave them pause before, in blind faith, they signed their lives away.
I wonder if any of their parents, aunts or uncles, catechists, teachers, youth ministers, godparents or pastors ever told them that before they pledge allegiance to a flag or a political party or military branch or embrace a particular brand of American fealty, all Catholics who “put on Christ” in baptism have pledged first an allegiance to a person and a way of life that trump, challenge, and expose as idolatrous even the noblest human made agendas, programs, or military operations that ask from us a faithfulness of which God alone is worthy? I wonder, did they ever consider that the way of Jesus flies in the face of the way of war, or did they, I fear, never hear anything substantive or alluring or personally implicating about Jesus’ peaceable kingdom and the courageous call and heroic commitment to the gospel of nonviolence to which Catholic Christians are answerable? The gospels are clear: the Jesus to whom Christians are called to align their lives is the Prince of Peace foretold in Isaiah 9:6 who preached “Blessed are the peacemakers,” taught “love your enemies,” cautioned the mob ready to stone a woman to death for her wrongdoing, “He who has not sinned can cast the first stone,” and reprimanded Peter to put his sword back in its sheath after cutting off the Roman guard’s ear. Why then are so many Catholics seemingly oblivious to or dismissive of the demands the gospel makes on us to be makers of peace? Why are so many Catholics who receive the God-blessed but world-broken body of Christ in the Eucharist so unaware of the nonviolent message of Jesus and the claims it makes on us?
The sad fact is that many young Catholic men and women are more willing and eager to be soldiers for Uncle Sam than to be saints of shalom for Jesus. Even sadder is the likely reason for this: the powers and principalities of a certain type of Americanism have done a better job of passionately and persuasively preaching their gospel than the presiders and preachers in Catholic Churches, schools, and homes have done in preaching the gospel of Jesus. If we dare to be honest, is it unfair to say that, up to now, Catholic leaders, pastoral ministers, and laity in the United States have failed to promote a Christic vision of peace and to create and offer an opportunity for peacemaking to our young adults that is as captivating, life-changing, and communally substantive as that being preached and peddled by the military establishment? Whether at the table of God’s word or at the dinner table, whether by what is said or by what is left unsaid by ecclesial leaders, parents, and elders of these young persons, too often it is conformity to the dominant culture, to the American social, economic, and military system that is proclaimed not the reign of God as reflected in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It comes down to this, according to the late Jesuit Daniel Berrigan: do we identify ourselves as Americans who happen to be Catholic Christians or as Catholic Christians who happen to be Americans?
At the end of every Eucharistic Liturgy, the presider sends forth the assembly with these words: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The Hebrew word, of course, is SHALOM, and it refers not to individual tranquility and a stress-free life but to “a restoration of the right [relationships] . . . among people . . . and within all of creation.” (The Challenge of Peace , no. 32). What does it mean today to go to Mass and to be sent forth into a world of violence and war as ambassadors of Christ who is the Prince of Peace? Is anything more required of us because we are Catholic followers of Jesus than of our neighbors who are good people, but might not be followers of Christ? Are not the provocative words of Dan Berrigan written so many years and wars ago not still evocative and challenging today? He wrote:
We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total—but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial . . . . There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war—at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake (“The Word as Liberation” in No Bars to Manhood, 1970, pgs. 48, 49).
For those who are Christians first, the peace of Christ is not just a Pollyannaish hoax, a mere metaphor, a naïve agenda of liberals, an option on a multiple choice quiz. It is the real deal, the command of Christ, the required work of all Catholics and the hope of God for all people and all the earth. The missing piece in Catholic evangelism and catechesis is peace. The glaring deficiency in the Catholic mindset and lifestyle is the “full, active, and conscious” awareness that peacemaking is a constitutive dimension of being an apprentice to Jesus. When the commitment to being makers and keepers of peace is applied not merely to war and military maneuvers but to the irreverence, injustice, cruelty, and violence that have become too prevalent in personal relationships, home life, lunch rooms, work environments, politics, and the environment, then we will move closer to enacting the beatitudinal spirituality of Jesus and participating in the audacity of divine love. When the commitment to nonviolence and the way of peace become as automatically connected to the Catholic way of life as are the Hail Mary, the rosary, and the pope, then the Catholic people of God will offer the world fewer soldiers who believe war is glamourous, the path to heroism, and the way to peace and offer instead more disciples who dare to believe that living peace is a non-negotiable dimension of the Christ-life and the way to embody the dream of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Dan Miller, Ph.D. is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer. He lives and works in southern California where he leads The Human & the Holy spiritual formation community and hangs out with his three grown adult children. Find out more about Dan here http://www.thesacredbraid.com.