Monday, December 06, 2004

Advent: The Passion for Peace

In Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, I was struck by the beauty of the opening image which consists of a black screen with the words:
He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by his wounds we are healed.  -  Isaiah 53
In the version of the Bible that I have, there is another phrase inserted between the last two phrases:
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.
At Mass this past Sunday (11/28/04), which happened to be the first Sunday of Advent, the scripture readings included:

In the last days... He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  - Isaiah 2

I guess we are a long way from the last days!

Yet, in our personal lives, and in our souls, we don't have to wait for the second coming of the Prince of Peace to get started. One of the messages of the Man of the Cross was to take the swords and spears that we carry within our hearts and forge them into instruments that sow the good news of love and compassion.

Just about everyone these days is familiar the Arabic word "jihad," and I assume that most people associate it with actions of violence by militant Moslems to further the cause of Islam. But the word jihad is accurately translated to mean "struggle" with a continuum of meanings depending on the context. In Islam the most common usage of the concept of jihad is about the struggle in the heart and mind of the believer against sin and evil.

I was listening to a sermon by a priest (Fr. Corapi) on the Catholic TV channel the other day. He described how when he travelled, especially when he was in the south, after seeing his collar, someone will often say something to him like, "Are you saved brother?"

The priest says he always answers, emphatically, "No! I am not saved!"  He explained that neither he nor anyone else can say they are saved until after they are in heaven.  Jesus fought the Big Jihad for us. Satan and despair are defeated. But each of us carries around own personal jihad within our hearts.

I was a child during the social uproar of the 1960's. (I entered high school in 1969). Through the media I observed the struggle for civil rights, the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, and the the struggles against many unjust social and institutional restrictions. Much of this was inspired or influenced by Christian ideals. Though a child, I understood that the Christian way was one of non-violence and transformation of the heart. I was totally perplexed by the statements and actions by a small minority who advocated violence. For the life of me, I couldn't understand how they could advocate violence as a way of protesting for peace and justice. I was raised to believe that if you wanted to change the world, you had to begin by changing yourself. There seemed to be a huge, gaping canyon between between the morality of a few in the "movement" and the morality they wanted for society. Christian witness requires that one set an example, that one attempts to live-out as much as possible the ideals of morality and justice that one works for in society.

I remember from the 1960's (or maybe it started in the 1970's) that some ideological people on college campuses academic would throw-out certain phrases to rationalize insults and vitriol on other people : "the personal is political" or " the political is personal." These sound like excuses to hate people who have different opinions of you.

The New Yorker magazine recently ran an article about the issue in France where Moslem School girls have been forbidden by law to wear veils to public schools. The article said that teenage Moslem girls have been spit upon and cursed while appearing in public wearing veils. This is in self-righteous France, which likes to think of itself as a highly civilizednation. Some articles in the press referred to France as "Catholic" France. Given the this behavior of the French, I don't see how France could possibly be considered a Catholic or Christian nation. Calling France "Catholic" makes me feel ashamed to call myself a Catholic. It seems that France, in the veil issue is behaving like those student protesters for peace and justice that commit violence and hate to further their cause.

The situation in Holland isn't too different, in the fallout of the murder and dismemberment of the filmmaker Van Ghough. In Holland, prior to the murder of Van Gough, the law was that one was free to say anything, with two exceptions: 1) You can not without reason and without proper founding insult a person or a group, and 2) You can not instigate hatred. Now in the fallout of the murder,there is discussion of adding a third exception: One can not say that the religion of another is wrong.

Both the French and the Dutch have taken the same ineffective approach. They want to simply outlaw that which could gives offense.They make no attempt teach or cultivate respect of others. There is no attempt at changing people's hearts and minds. The idea that all human beings have dignity and should be treated as such is one of the roots of Judeo-Christian (surprise--Western!) values. (The idea of universal human dignity comes from the book of Genesis, btw.) It seems that the course of "progress" is turning Europe's value back to the days when they were barbarians.After WWII, Pope Pious XII commissioned and published an analysis to answer the question of how the Holocaust could have occurred in "Christian" Europe. The conclusion was that Christian values had never penetrated very deeply into European society.

Fr. Oldfield (O.A.R.) in Madrid says that while America has a society that is substantially Bible based, Europe is still living on the ideals of the Enlightenment. It would seem to me that the Enlightenment hasn't been very enlightening!

Now I know that there must be many good and sincere Christians in France and the Netherlands, and I am certainly not condemning individuals. But the issues coming out of Europe provide great fodder for social criticism and good examples to discuss. (and by the way, France and the Netherlands have had a radically different history than we have had in the U.S.A-- a history loaded with religious wars and persecutions.

We will never have world peace or personal peace unless we forgive others. If we sit around passively assuming that only world leaders and governments can do something about world peace, we are wrong. We can all work to bring peace in the world, however small the effort, by working for peace in our own lives, in our interactions in thoughts, words, and deeds with others. the hymn goes, "Let it begin with me."


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

First of all - welcome to blogging!

I certainly agree that forgiveness leads to peace. A few days a go a fellow blogger posted something related t that, and I also reflected on it on my blog. Forgiveness can be hard some times though, particularly when the wounds run deep. But forgiveness is still what God calls us to do, and with practice (and love, humility, and self-awareness) it gets easier.

6:26 AM  

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