These are indeed troubling times in that part of the world. In addition to the daily atrocities in Syria’s civil war, there is turmoil in Egypt and daily bloodshed in Iraq.
As I write, our leaders in Washington seem prepared to attack the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against its people.
My brother bishops in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have urged our leaders to work instead for a ceasefire and to promote dialogue and negotiations between the warring factions fighting in Syria.
We urged them to follow Pope Francis’ advice: “It is not conflict that offers prospects of hope for solving problems, but rather the capacity for encounter and dialogue.”
It’s not clear, as I write, which path our government will follow.
What is clear is that our world needs new thinking about war and peace and about the use of force in resisting evil. And I believe that Catholic social teaching can contribute a lot to this new thinking.
This is the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII great encyclical, Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”) and I’ve been reading this encyclical.
It was written in 1963 – during a very tense time in the world. It was written in the months following the Cuban Missile Crisis and at the start of the Cold War. Yet Blessed Pope John writes with a calm, hopeful spirit.
He teaches that peace is far more than the absence of violence.
Peace comes from following God’s plan for the order of the world. Peace depends, in the Pope’s words, on “the diligent observance of the divinely established order.”
God’s plan for the world is that all men and women live and work together as “one family.” And to realize this plan, it is essential that governments defend the God-given dignity and human rights of every person.
Today, we see that our world needs a new commitment to what Blessed Pope John called the “unity of the human family.”
The processes of “globalization” have made nations interconnected on the levels of economics, finance and the flow of information.
But on the human level, our “globalized” world seems more fragmented than ever today. The human family is divided by religion and power, by money and natural resources, by race and nationality.
The problem is that our world can’t seem to agree on what principles should “order” our global economic and political life. And without any sense of our shared humanity, the world risks sliding into a violent chaos of competing “self-interests.”
So the Church’s teachings on peace and international order remain vital today. In his great City of God, St. Augustine defined peace as tranquillitas ordinis – “the tranquility of order.”
As Catholics, we need to promote the Church’s teachings and we need to work for that divine order that God wants to establish on earth.
We are called to build a culture of peace – to promote awareness of God and our common humanity. We need to inspire a new sense of our duties to care for others and to share with those in need.
Peace is a gift from God, but achieving peace begins with us.
We need to inspire new dedication to promoting freedom and human rights for peoples around the world. We need to seek ways to break down the barriers that divide people and to help them forgive those who have done them wrong.
In everything we need to seek what Blessed Pope John called “the universal common good, that is, the common good of the entire human family.”
So let us take time this Saturday to pray and reflect on the meaning of peace. Let’s examine our hearts about our own commitment to peace.
In the prayers we say in the Mass before receiving Holy Communion, we ask God to “free us from every evil” and to “grant us peace in our days.”
This week, let’s make that our prayer. Let’s ask God to give us the strength to be peacemakers – in our homes and in our communities, and in the positions we advocate as faithful citizens.
Let’s entrust all our prayers and fasting to the intercession of Mary, who is the Queen of Peace and the Mother of the Prince of Peace.
Reprinted with permission from The Tidings, official newspaper for the archdiocese of Los Angeles. The column was originally printed September 6, 2013.
Most Rev. José H. Gomez is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, California.