Sister Doreen’s Reflections
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.
“Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our neighbour, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our neighbour, we have sinned against Christ.”
Saint Anthony the Great.
Just a reminder: Blessed, what does Jesus intend by using this paradoxical word? In trying to understand the focus of the beatitudes I think that it is important to consider the meaning and the intent of this first word which we translate ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.
- In Greek the first word is MAKAROI – which helps us understand people enjoying a deep inner joy, a lasting spiritual experience, like the inner joy that continues to grow deeper as life experience grows. It is an experience of life at its best and a call to do something about it! For example, perhaps a more real translation would be: get up, go ahead, and do something. Move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice. For you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, and move. Take action, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God.
As I said, most of us don’t know what to do with the beatitudes, but they sound like a beautiful and familiar poem, or a list that makes us feel guilty because we are not good enough, meek enough. Upon pondering the beatitudes, I really think that Jesus is saying: “If you feel you are living in a world where you don’t fit in, start creating a new, more loving world. God and the kingdom of heaven are doing it with you. Act like you belong to God’s kingdom. Do something beautiful with God.”
Jim Forest in his book The Ladder of the Beatitudes writes: “Only after ascending the first six rungs of the ladder of the beatitudes do we reach the beatitude of the peacemaker, for only a person who has taken all the steps that purify the heart can help rebuild broken bridges, pull down walls of division, assist us in recovering a small degree of our lost communion with God and with one another.”
In my own reflection about peace I believe there is a very intimate connection between self knowledge, the humble truth about ourselves, (something that we are challenged with each day, something that is an ongoing exercise throughout our life journey) and that of being peacemakers. It comes about through a contemplative deep listening, deep seeing which allows truth to become apparent. Self-knowledge, trust and humility are part of the package of receiving the gift of peace which is in God. In a real sense, in my experience, peace is something which enfolds me, rather than something that I can grasp after.
I think we have worn out the word peace, and somehow it urgently needs restoration! It has been and is so tied up in political smoke! In Hebrew the word peace is shalom meaning wholeness, serenity, prosperity, happiness and peaceful relations among people – it is wishing that every good gift be bestowed upon someone. It is about every possible blessing: salvation, unity, plentiful food, good weather, peace among nations, relief from hard times.
Peace is not a principle, a theory, a concept, a political program, or a social ideal. If we are to do a restoration to the word peace we need to begin to see that peace is God, God’s very own self – who heals, who forgives, who reaches out to people, all people everywhere. We need to hold tightly to the hand of God, to find our home in God to become makers of peace. Jesus did not say blessed are those who prefer peace, wish for peace, await peace, love peace, or praise peace. God’s blessing is on the makers of peace. We need to remember that Jesus also said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34) To those who are basically pleased with the way things are -God’s peace can be very disturbing.
It was St Francis of Assisi who coined the greeting “Peace and goodness” and who said: “They are truly peacemakers who are able to preserve their peace of mind and heart for love of God, despite all that they suffer in this world”. Peacemakers operate on two levels – immediate, necessary work of care in the community and work to change the structures that cause suffering. And peacemakers -holding tightly onto the hand of God –through prayer and desert time – must be focused here as well in order to be in the service of peace. It was Sister Rosemary Lynch in the 1980’s who said “None of us can make peace, Peace is God’s gift. But we can serve God’s peace.” This is our high calling – peacemaking is part of ordinary Christian life in all its daily-ness and mess.
The challenge is acknowledging that our ears and our eyes have much to do with peacemaking. The less carefully we listen to each other and the less attentively we see each other, the more likely we are to misunderstand, miss the compassionate level of where people are, the more we can become caught up irresolvable conflict, either externally or internally within ourselves. I have come to believe that this is hospitality of the face and ear – paying attention, deep attention. Still more important is prayer, which can open the channel inside us to participate in God’s love for the other person. It is when we love each other that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who that person is, and who we are, and to see our essential oneness.
Joan Chittister wrote: “It is what we lack in ourselves that agitates us. What we do not have in our own hearts, we will always look for someplace else. What we do not cultivate within ourselves, we will always demand from others. If we have not set ourselves to the task of self-development, we will want without end someone else’s skills, someone else’s gifts, someone else’s advantages. If we are insecure, we will demand control over others. If we have not come to peace with our own life, we will make combat with the people around us. If we have not learned to listen to our own struggles, we will never have compassion for the struggles of others. Peace comes when we know that there is something that the Spirit has to teach us in everything we do, in everything we experience. When we are rejected, we learn that there is a love above all loves in life. When we are afraid, we come to know that there are those who will take care of us whatever the cost to themselves. When we are lonely, we learn that there is a rich and vibrant world inside of us waiting to be explored if we will only make the effort. When we are threatened by differences, we come to realize that the gift of the other is grace in disguise meant to broaden the narrowness that constricts our souls. Then peace comes, then quiet sets in; then there is nothing that anyone can do to us that can destroy our equilibrium, upset our inner balance”
This is one beatitude that clearly helps us to understand that when we try to build peace with others we are also repairing our relationship with God, and so move into ‘for they shall be called, they shall be recognized, as children of God.” Whether that is preventing war, providing care to those in need, putting two neighbours back on speaking terms, or restoring unity within a family, this is partnering with God and God’s activity in the world.
It is our little bits added together that can overwhelm the world. And we need to remember this in the face of all that seems to overwhelm us, while knowing that:
If we have no peace
It is because we have forgotten
That we belong to each other.