December 29, 2005
F. E. Smith, first Earl of Birkenhead, Oxford professor, statesman, and orator, understood Winston Churchill’s remarkable memory. Churchill could repeat verbatim an entire play by Shakespeare. He also had a talent to engage in debate extemporaneously. Smith quipped, "Winston has devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches." This off hand remark reminds us that every moment prepares us for what is yet to come.
Past events influence us. That is why history holds lessons wise to remember. It was on the eve of Word War II. August 24, 1939. Pope Pius XII made a fervent appeal. He said: "It is by the power of sound reason, not by force of arms, that justice makes its way" (cf. Pius XII
Discorsi e Radiomessagi, I, 1939). But his plea failed and a new type of war began. A war with no distinction between combatant and noncombatant. A war where the battlefield was the enemy’s entire territory.
As we look back on the past year, images of twisted metal and the dead strewn in streets crowd our memory. Too many fresh graves. Too many families destroyed. Humanity’s march through time numbers one fatal conflict after another. The horror of each new war brings greater and greater catastrophes for entire peoples. Even the most remote conflict has far reaching effects on every citizen of this world. Ambition and greed, selfishness and nationalism derail the world from its pursuit of peace.
Ever since January 1, 1968, the first day of the year has been set aside as World Day for Peace. Pope Paul VI inaugurated this tradition. He expressed the desire that the calendar begin with a renewed commitment for peace. Another year begins. 2006. The smoke of terror attacks darkens the horizon. The din of battle thunders louder than our prayers for peace. Yet we continue to hope.
The New Year begins as the Octave of Christmas ends. Fresh from the celebration of Christmas, we enter the New Year. This fills us with promise and hope. Jesus whose birth we have celebrated is the eternal Son of the Father. He is begotten before time. He is the Word made flesh. He has entered our world, became part of our history to redeem time and to save us. The wars that rob us of peace are the terrible legacy of sin. But sin is not the final answer. God has sent his Son not to condemn but to redeem us and to lead us to peace.
Peace is not a task for diplomats or soldiers alone. It is not a gift that politicians can legislate or courts enforce. In our time, the human family cannot attain peace unless each individual is truly desirous of peace, unless each individual works to build peace. Building peace starts with embracing the moral demand expressed by Paul:
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21). Working for peace demands an active struggle against prejudice and hatred, oppression and inequality. It is an act of love. Every moment counts. How we value and use time, how we respect and cherish every other person is the best way to usher in peace in our world. The outbreaks of violence that witness with increasing alarm erupt from the hearts of those who no longer treasure our common sharing of this world.
A commitment to peace is a labor of patience and perseverance. The Second Vatican Council gave a clear roadmap to peace. The Council taught: “Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ. But insofar as men vanquish sin by a union of love, they will vanquish violence as well and make these words come true: ‘They shall turn their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4)’ ” (
Gaudium et Spes, 78).
How fitting that New Year’s Day is the World Day of Peace
and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. On the first day of the New Year, the Church honors with joy the one who gave to the world the fruit of her womb, Jesus, the "Prince of peace" (Is 9:5). With great confidence, we place our prayers for peace in her maternal hands to present before her divine Son.
From Jesus’ first sounds in the manger to his cry on Golgotha, Mary accompanied her son in his work of redemption. She continues this very role with all the sons and daughters of Eve. Our problems are the stuff of her intercession before Jesus. “The Mother of God…keeps in her heart all of humanity's problems, great and difficult… The
Alma Redemptoris Mater walks with us and guides us with motherly tenderness towards the future. Thus she helps [us] cross all the "thresholds" of the years…by sustaining [our] hope in the One who is the Lord of history”(Pope John Paul II, Homily, January 1, 1999).
Through the intercession of the Mother of God, may we come to know the peace of Christ.