The Call to Peace…

“You have heard it said to men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’, shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22, RSVCE)

The heartbreaking images of the unspeakable suffering of the Ukrainian people are everywhere. We see and hear about this terrible situation and feel anguish and helplessness. We pray, we donate to charities, we try to understand how this terrible situation came about, we talk with our friends and family, but otherwise wonder what we can do.

We know that we are to love our enemies and pray for them (Mt 5:44-45). Are we doing that, at least – praying for the Russian people? the conversion of their misguided leaders? for their soldiers, many of whom are reluctant combatants, feeling they had been deceived about this terrible war which was – and is still – being deceitfully called a “military operation”? Are we doing at least that while we also “storm Heaven” on behalf of the beleaguered and suffering Ukrainian people? It’s easy to paint a complicated picture in black and white terms: it makes us feel less vulnerable and helpless when we hold onto outrage about an evil situation, and commiserate with those around us.

Perhaps there’s something more for us to do. Jesus minces no words in the above Gospel passage. His standards are extremely high. He brooks no excuses for holding onto malice in our hearts. As we’re wondering what we can do to help the world situation right now, Jesus’ admonition calls us to personal peace; to ruthlessly root out any and all unforgiveness in our hearts, that “war” with others that may be simmering unseen beneath the surface. It’s not an easy task; gladness about a rival’s misfortune, or easy judgement and criticism of others lurk in the corners of our hearts. We’re sometimes surprised at what long memories we have for injustices done to us.

And what about the things we’ve done to others? Jesus addresses these further on in this passage: “..if you… remember that your brother has something against you…go: first be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:23-24). Have we done everything we can to seek forgiveness for our transgressions toward others? We might even hope that reconciliation is possible with much patience and prayer.

And are we carefully monitoring our thoughts and words, even with strangers? Are we too hasty with our judgements about others, labeling them, even insulting them in a casual way? It seems Jesus doesn’t take this lightly.

“Peace is yours as a gift from the Lord, as a responsibility and a challenge.” (St John Paul II). The responsibility we have is to the Giver of the gift, bought with the price of his own life on Calvary. The challenge is to obey, to follow his commands; with his enablement, to practice this peace in our own lives, in our own hearts. Unless we truly live in his peace, we have no chance of communicating the Gift of Peace to the world around us.

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