Tag Archive | Justice

Advent Paths to Peace

For December I shall be adapting sections from “Advent Reflections 2018, Paths to Peace”:
PATHS TO PEACE – ecospiritualityresources.files.wordpress.com

Christians often refer to the Christ Child as the Prince of Peace. Many groups exchange a sign of peace during their services. When someone dies, we sometimes say: May s/he rest in peace. We pray for peace in our world, our families, our selves. Nobel awards a Peace Prize. We assume that the Cosmic Christ’s reign will be one of Peace on Earth. Let’s ponder the challenges of “peace.”

How do you feel when applying Pope Francis’s words to personal and national/international situations: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. Only the tenacious say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation”?

In the Hebrew Bible, “shalom” is translated “peace.” (The image here includes “shalom” in Arabic and Hebrew.) Shalom is about wholeness. Each part of us (e.g., cells, organs, systems) is a whole entity, working for the good of the greater whole. Each person is part of larger wholes. Ultimately we are integral parts of our interconnected, expanding creation. No one and no thing can be excised from that whole. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” (John Muir) Justice demands that each be given its proper respect.

Note that shalom is not the absence of tension or even of conflict. Think how our Universe somehow began with an expansion of particles and light and the repeated transformation of these particles as they gave themselves to become the next generation of elements within evolution. Eventually supernovas exploded so that the remains could become our solar system — and everything in it, including ourselves.

Death and conflict pervade creation, yet from the beginning, creation has kept in balance and harmony. Earth repaired disequilibriums whenever that was necessary. (E.g., when too much oxygen threatened the health of the atmosphere, Earth “invented” respiration to assure the presence of the right amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) to foster life. This required eons.) We know from experience that we, too, can heal, though sufficient time must be allowed.

Others have shed light on the meaning of peace. Margaret Anna Cusack (foundress of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in the 19th century), emphasized the biblical conception of peace not as the absence of hostility but as the establishment of right relationships based on justice. Pope Paul VI repeated this concept in his famous 1972 quote: “If you want peace, work for justice.” The world awoke to yet another aspect of peace when Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 because of her efforts to save the environment and plant trees, thus contributing to social and ecological justice. How would you explain that to someone who didn’t understand why she won the award?

What right relationships based on justice seem most needed in our personal lives, our groups, our nation, church, and Earth? How can justice bring peace to these issues? What difference happens when we use positive words rather than negative ones, e.g., “work for justice” instead of “war on poverty”?

As we ponder the gift of Jesus’s example and teachings this Advent, let’s remember that “justice and righteousness” are needed to keep ourselves and the entire web of life whole/at peace. Any single thing we do for peace will affect many people, many other issues. As with the mobile (on the left), touching any one part affects the whole. Butterfly wings flapping somewhere influence weather patterns elsewhere; stones cast into water result inripples that extend and intersect. We cannot do one thing in our interconnected universe!


jubilee-year-of-mercyLast March Pope Francis declared an extraordinary Jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy. No question that the world needs compassion, forgiveness, and mercy! But I found myself a bit concerned: wouldn’t highlighting mercy lead to the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy — all fourteen of which focus on people? Might this not reinforce a tendency to the anthropocentrism that the pope would later lament in his encyclical Laudato Si’? Further, the Works of Mercy have traditionally been more concerned with charity than with addressing the causes of the need for charity. Whether or not the pope was thinking of those fourteen works of mercy, how do we interpret them in light of this newly-understood interconnection of all creation and the need for global justice?

If we believe that the name of God is Mercy, it follows that Mercy (aka God) lives and acts in all creation, with no exclusions. We cannot care for people without caring for our common home. Deepening our awareness of the loving forgiveness and mercy of God/ Mercy propels us to make connections: humans with the rest of creation, mercy with justice.

Works of Mercy

dayton-food-08In Matthew 25, Jesus lists the ultimate tests for being accepted into the kingdom: “Then he shall say to them … Come, you who are blessed by my Father … for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

The Church eventually listed seven essential Spiritual Works of Mercy, and seven Corporal Works:
Counsel the doubtful                                                      Feed the hungry
Teach those who lack knowledge                                    Give drink to the thirsty
Admonish sinners                                                           Clothe the naked
Comfort the afflicted                                                      Welcome the stranger
Forgive those who hurt us                                             Visit the sick
Bear patiently with those who do us ill                          Visit the imprisoned
Pray for the living and the dead                                      Bury the dead

Seen originally as person-to-person relationships, we now realize that “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his [sic] creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.” Laudato Si’, par. 92

Making Connections 

b2d7ae612546384ea8aa5c55294665d3Seen in the light of redressing causes, working for justice, and interconnecting with all of creation, these works take on even greater relevance. Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, for example, are impossible when soil and water are seriously polluted and/or when climate change results in droughts or floods or salination or  species extinction. Justice is also a factor, for food quality and availability are often endangered by laws that benefit corporations at the expense soil and farmers and the hungry who need healthful food.

The saying goes that if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime — but not if the fish stock is depleted by overfishing or climate disruption, if his access is usurped by big industry, the water is polluted, etc. And what about job availability and just wages to allow the workers and the hungry to purchase food?

White House officials held a call with governors Tuesday evening about Syrian refugees as a growing number of state executives are saying they will not welcome resettling them in their states over terror concerns.

Of course Christians want to welcome the stranger. Whatever we do to the least, we do to Christ. But take a look at the states where governors have said strangers are not welcome. How are we addressing the causes of  and solutions to this lack of welcome? What are we doing to stop the causes — climate change, wars, persecution —  that drive millions to leave their homes and flee to an uncertain future?

Integral Ecology

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis devotes one of his five chapters to “Integral Ecology.” Try substituting “the works of mercy” for “the analysis of environmental problems” in this quote from par. 141: “Today, [the analysis of environmental problems] cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.”

The first sentence of Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy provides the key to unlocking connections: “The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person.” Let’s look below and beyond and all around the Works of Mercy to see how they interconnect with everything else — and what we can do about it.