‘To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.’ – Cardinal Suhard.
Some people try very hard to equate the word ‘peace’ with the naïve ‘flower children’ of the 1960s; to paint it as impractical, implausible, the stuff that fuzzyheaded intellectuals and radicals are made of.
But Jesus built his entire Gospel message on peace, and nowhere in his words or deeds did he even hint that war was actually the way of achieving it. Indeed, peace is the stuff of the four Gospels; a constant theme of the New Testament and the ultimate goal of two thousand years of Christian vision and witness.
One of the great witnesses to peace in our Catholic tradition is St Francis of Assisi. While many people associate St Francis with nature, not as many know the story of his voyage and witness to the Muslim world as a peacemaker.
It was the time of the Fifth Crusade, shortly after a Crusader victory at the port city of Damietta—modern Dumyat—on the Nile Delta. Francis, who opposed all killing no matter what the cause, sought the blessing of the cardinal who was chaplain to the Crusader forces to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan.
The cardinal told him that the Muslims understood only weapons and that the one useful thing a Christian could do was to kill them. At last the cardinal stood aside, certain that Francis and Illuminato, the brother traveling with him, were being led to die as martyrs. The two left the Crusader encampment singing the psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’.
For a month, Francis and the sultan met daily. Though neither converted the other, the sultan had such warmth for his guests that he not only spared their lives but gave them a passport allowing them to visit Christian holy places under Muslim control, and presented Francis with a beautifully carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint kept in the Basilica of Assisi. The two (Francis and Malik-al-Kamil, the Sultan) parted as brothers.
We too are called to be witnesses to peace in our daily lives. For in many ways we are living in ‘war’. Often we can be at ‘war’ with ourselves, at ‘war’ with others, especially when we ‘crusade’ against people and see them as rivals and enemies.
A life of peace and nonviolence, however, means daily trying to make peace with ourselves and to cultivate an interior ‘nonviolence’. We all need to take the inner journey with the saints and mystics. Then we discover that if we sit every day in quiet meditation and do something as simple as reading the Beatitudes of Jesus, a certain healing happens. A spring of peace wells up within us.
Our mission as peacemakers then follows. Among the things that Christ did not say in the Sermon on the Mount is, ‘Blessed are those who prefer peace, wish for peace, await peace, love peace, or praise peace’. He blesses the makers of peace. He requires an active rather than a passive role.
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way!
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled Blessed Are You: Meditations on the Beatitudes & Daily Life by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.