Following is an expanded version of the reflection offered by Pax Christi USA Ambassador Peace and former national coordinator Nancy Small at the Pax Christi USA 50th anniversary banquet dinner on August 6, 2022.
When I was asked to reflect on the 50th anniversary conference theme “Seeing Through the Prism of Justice,” the first thing that came to mind was a suncatcher. It’s a lovely type of prism, one that dazzles my days as it sends rainbows dancing across my kitchen floor. Like many people, I love the beauty of rainbows. But I love them even more because they remind me of the vow of nonviolence God made with humankind long ago.
We’ve all heard the story. After the Great Flood, God said to Noah, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11). Scripture goes on to say that the rainbow will be the sign of this covenant. God will behold the rainbow and remember “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:16).
What an extraordinary moment between God and Noah. The great flood cleansed the earth of all the violence that was harming it (see Gen 6:13). But the destruction it caused left God feeling remorseful. This was God’s “there’s got to be a better way” moment where God recognized the futility of violence and the fertility of nonviolence. Longing to restore right relationship, God promised never to do that again and made a vow of nonviolence with all creation through Noah.
How many times have we witnessed violence and said to ourselves “there’s got to be a better way” over the course of Pax Christi USA’s 50-year history? And how many times have we promoted that “better way” by making a choice for nonviolence in the face of violence? Each time we do we are keepers of the nonviolent covenant God made with Noah. We are kindlers of the new creation that God’s vow of nonviolence ignited.
How have we been doing this? By advocating nonviolent alternatives and advancing nonviolence as a way of life.
For 50 years Pax Christi USA has been advancing gospel nonviolence by advocating its power as a legitimate alternative to violence. We’ve taken the hidden light of the Catholic peace tradition and reflected that light more broadly and bountifully for all to see. Now that light shines from the halls of the Vatican to the humble valleys where most of us live out our vocation as peacemakers by bearing the light of the Son of Justice, by being the peace of Christ.
Decades ago Pax Christi USA looked at itself through that prism of justice and recognized the need to form young adults in the ways of nonviolence. This weekend we are witnessing the vibrant and vital light of young adults who have assumed key leadership positions within Pax Christi. Now we have a national office staff that is comprised mostly of young adults. At the helm is Pax Christi USA’s executive director, Johnny Zokovitch, who came of age in Pax Christi and has done foundational work in forming young adults in the way of nonviolence. Let us celebrate tonight the light that young adults bring to the peace movement as well as what they see when they look through the prism of justice.
Over 20 years ago, Pax Christi USA looked through that prism of justice and recognized the need to examine and confront racism within our movement and acknowledge our complicity with racism in our society. This work has brought people of diverse colors and cultures into Pax Christi. Indeed, people of color are now assuming their rightful place in leadership roles at every level of the organization, enriching Pax Christi with their wisdom and witness as well as their deep spirituality and discipleship. Let us celebrate tonight the light that people of color bring to the peace movement as well as what they see when they look through the prism of justice.
Let’s celebrate, too, the light that each of us brings to Pax Christi USA. Each of us is a prism of justice that reflects the light of peace. How? By being refractors of the light of peace in a climate where there are many detractors of that light. By allowing the luminosity of nonviolence to shine through us upon a nation that longs for the light of a better way.
Sometimes I wonder why God chose the rainbow as the sign of God’s covenant of peace. Maybe it was to let us know that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. And to remind us that just by bearing the light of nonviolence and being that light, we bend the arc a little more toward justice.
Or maybe God chose the rainbow to remind us that when we choose nonviolence, the sky is the limit. The reach of nonviolence is broad and wide, spanning the skies with possibility and promise. Nonviolence is fertile by nature, like the seed that is planted or the yeast that makes the dough rise. In our first 50 years, we’ve begun to explore the heights and depths of nonviolence and we’ve expanded its reach. We’ve cultivated nonviolent beginnings where violence and injustice have long reigned. We’ve promoted nonviolence with courage and conviction, planting seeds in the souls of more and more people. As we embark upon the next 50 years, we are ready to cultivate the leavening power of nonviolence as never before so that it might realize its full potential.
So tonight let’s celebrate the radiant light of Pax Christi USA in our lives and in the life of our world. Let’s celebrate the light of resistance and reconciliation with justice that Pax Christi bears, a light that is resilient and keeps on rising, reaching for ever greater heights. It is a light that is persistent and prophetic, a light that shines with the effervescent promise of brighter tomorrows.