Xavier Magazine

Seeking Peace

By Benjamin J. Urmston, S.J.


As a result of the actions of September 11, this has become a time when questions come more easily than answers, and deep contradictions seem to abound in our world. Is there a way to strike back against terrorism without killing innocent people? Is there a way to minimize the risk of terrorism without creating a police state and endangering civil liberties? Is there a way to fashion a just and peaceful world that welcomes religious and human values? Often we find ourselves confused, angry, insecure and frightened.

In the wake of such uncertainty, I try to find my basic security in God’s love and in God’s plan for us. And as such, I think our response in the face of escalating violence is to escalate love. We need to increase our respect for ourselves and others. Afghanistan needs tons and tons of food, not tons and tons of bombs. Law discriminates between the innocent and guilty. Bombs do not.

While I understand the need for justice, there are other means of gaining it than war, the law being one of them. The U.S. could sue Afghanistan in the World Court over its alleged harboring of Osama bin Laden, who allegedly organized the attacks, and seek injunctive action by the Court ordering Afghanistan to give him up for trial. Or the U.S. could ask the United Nations to set up an international tribunal that includes jurists from the Islamic world. If alleged evidence is not approved by an independent tribunal, Islamic nations may hesitate to cooperate. If someone is duly indicted or charged, the burden is on a state that is harboring a suspect.

Such a peaceful response would also be in keeping with the teachings of the Church, the collective challenge of bishops nationally and the repeated urgings of several popes.

“Humankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to humankind,” Pope Paul VI told the United Nations on Oct. 4, 1965. “No more war. War never again.”

“War is no longer viable,” the U.S. bishops wrote in “The Challenge of Peace.” “There is a substitute for war.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also upholds such thinking, noting, “The Fifth Commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.”

Such tall orders require much prayer. My own prayer makes me bold enough to propose one path to both local and global peace: a search for effective and just laws.

Even if the world’s problems were not so acute, though, there are positive reasons for world law. There is only one earth. There is one human family created by the same God, destined for the same goal–union with God and with one another. We are all united by common bonds of basic human rights and responsibilities.

Although I have always tried to live the peace of Christ, I don’t identify the peace of Christ with political or economic peace. I look upon integral peace as grace and mystery. Comprehending peace can be as elusive as God, the author of peace, or the human person, who never fully reaches peace, or the human family, who at this stage groans and is in agony as it searches for peace.

The religions of the world share, at least in theory, a common understanding of peace as not only the absence of war, which is certainly important, but also the presence of justice, which is equally essential. Peace is harmonious relationships among God, the family, the community, ourselves and the earth. Peace is the exercise of basic human rights protected by law.

In the face of escalating words of hate, we can escalate words of kindness toward others. We can try to communicate better and listen more carefully. We can act courageously and lovingly by speaking out against acts of hate directed against Muslims, Arabs and others we may stigmatize as “other” and use as scapegoats. In the face of escalating cries for war, we will–we must–courageously and lovingly offer a different perspective.

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