Prayers for Peace on New Year’s Day, 2014
Pope John Paul II called Christmas that - "our peace and our joy" - in his Christmas message twenty years ago. John Paul II, to be declared a saint this coming April, delivered a message of peace at Christmas in every year of his papacy and the message never grew tired, as every year it was preached in a world at war. One of his predecessors, John XXIII, had spoken, decades earlier, of the causes of war - what he called an "international sickness":
These causes are: "the violation of the rights and dignity of the human person and the overruling of the rights of the family and of labor; the overthrow of the juridical order and of the healthy idea of the state in keeping with the Christian spirit; impairment of the liberty, integrity and security of other nations to whatever extent; the systematic oppression of the cultural and language characteristics of national minorities; the egotistical calculations of all who strive to seize control of the economic sources of the materials of common use to the detriment of other peoples; and in particular, the persecution of religion and of the Church."
It is a good list - and to reverse it to the positive side of matters, his list of the causes of war calls on us to do the following in the service of peace:
1) Uphold the value of human beings and;
2) their families; and
3) especially those who are workers; in
4) a world governed by just law and order
5) upholding individual freedom; and
6) national integrity and autonomy; while
7) fighting discrimination based on nationality;
8) opposing the greedy amassing of wealth and power; and
9) opposing religious discrimination.
2013 was both an ordinary and an extraordinary year in these areas in our country. It was the twelfth year of continuous war
since 2001. It was the fifth year of unemployment
and poverty spurred by the crash of 2008. It was an unprecedented year in ending some forms of discrimination - including one that had been Holy Writ
. But others, including religious discrimination and outright religious warfare, have continued unabated.
Having briefly served in our armed forces, I'm well-acquainted with the idea that our use of force around the globe is in the service of human dignity and freedom. But at Christmas, if not all year long, it is worthwhile to consider the words of St. Augustine: "It is more glorious to slay war with words than men with steel; and it is true glory to secure peace by peaceful means" (St. Augustine, Epistle 129, II).
It is also worth considering some unpleasant facts. It has recently been reported
that a US drone struck a series of buses carrying wedding guests in Afghanistan. More than a dozen innocent people were killed and many more were wounded, some critically. It received some coverage, but passed largely unnoticed in our media which was giving us wall-to-wall coverage of "the selfie." Of course, if the attack had been on an American wedding, everyone would know about it and it would never be off the TV for weeks. We've all been to weddings. Imagine being at one bombed from a drone.
The fact that we don't makes it clear that we've placed ourselves above the victims of that attack. As a nation, we've decided that our weddings matter and our people matter, and "their" weddings and "their" people, perhaps not at all. The tens and hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have died in the wars since 2001 have been assigned a "dignity" that is less that the dignity we grant ourselves, and we act accordingly. And so what John XXIII was saying in 1959 - that "the violation of the rights and dignity of the human person and the overruling of the rights of the family" is the first cause of war, has been re-written in blood in the desert this year.
Another kind of disrespect and indignity was on display in New York City, this time to one of our very own. When asked about the plight of a homeless woman in the City he leads, the pope of New York had a different idea than the Pope in Rome. Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "that's just how God works
." And that may be exactly how some of the most fortunate and wealthy in America have come to see it: they are rich and wealthy by some kind of decree from on High, as though God himself has ordained that they circle the globe in private jets while the poor sleep on the streets in winter. Bloomberg held himself up as the perfect example of: "the egotistical calculations of all who strive to seize control of the economic sources of the materials of common use to the detriment of other peoples." That may be the story of Michael Bloomberg's life, but don't ask him to reflect on it - he says "that's just how God works." I wonder how he knows.
2014 starts a new year and a new chance to show respect and concern for one another. It's a new year to see the world through the eyes of others instead of through our own personal, parochial, or national concerns and ideas. Those of us who make it into 2014 receive another chance to care for the weaker, the poorer and the sicker among us, instead of imagining that it's our own personal merit that makes their problems none of ours.
John Paul's Christmas prayer said this also, twenty years ago:
Wipe away, Baby Jesus, the tears of children!
Embrace the sick and the elderly!
Move men to lay down their arms
and to draw close in a universal embrace of peace!
Invite the peoples, O merciful Jesus,
to tear down the walls created
by poverty and unemployment, by ignorance and indifference,
by discrimination and intolerance.
2014 won't be too soon.