BEING PEACE-MAKERS - Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A., April 2, 2010

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“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral. Returning violence with violence only multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

These words teach and inspire us that breaking the vicious cycle of violence is the work of the peace-Maker. The courage of one’s convictions MAKES peace. To MAKE peace means expending the effort to build up; it takes courage and diligence.

I would like to introduce to you a holy person from the Catholic faith tradition known as Rita of Cascia. She was a peace-MAKER. A diminutive widow from the 1400s, she stood in the way of a steamroller of public opinion bent on vengeance, powered by hatred. It brings to mind the image of the Chinese student in Tienenman Square who stood in the way of the tanks, unarmed, bringing them to a halt.

Rita’s husband was killed in a vendetta, the law of the land. If someone harmed your family, it was your responsibility to avenge your family’s honor by striking back. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Emotions rule. Hatred and vengeance make the blood boil and cloud the reasoning process. But Rita stood her ground in defying conventional ways. She was bound and determined to be a peace-MAKER.

Jesus of Nazareth was a peace-Maker, who spoke passionately about changing the ways of society. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives peace do I give it to you,” he said. No, our world often confuses peace with weakness and avoiding conflict. Nothing could be further from the truth. The peace that Jesus preaches is the result of confrontation, of loving. Loving is hard work; it requires sacrifice, unselfishness, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, forbearance – none of them easy, all of them demanding strength, compelling us to persevere courageously for the sake of justice. For Jesus, and many others who have followed his example throughout history, peace is not a negative but a positive.

The true peacemaker has the courage to point out what is right and stand fast to accomplish it, even in the face of insurmountable odds. A true peacemaker is one tough, steel-willed person, not the weak and non-confrontational stereotype promoted by self-proclaimed rugged individualists rallying around the second amendment.

We gather on this Good Friday, commemorating the death of an innocent man who was unjustly condemned to a violent death, undeservedly. His crime was to preach non-violence, to exhort his followers to “offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” He called for change: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you,
love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you...”

On this day we commemorate the many innocent victims who have been grievously injured - just yesterday there was another incident, a woman in Kensington gunned down in a cross-fire - and those who have died because of gun violence. We gather to pray for the conversion of those who enable the ones who pull the triggers, the straw buyers who put weapons in the hands of violent people for their own profit, to the detriment of the innocent. And we pray for those who have the opportunity to impede these straw purchases but who balk at doing the right thing because of social pressures, the same pressures which affected but did not deter the likes of Jesus of Nazareth, Rita of Cascia, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., to mention a few.

In the Catholic social teaching tradition there is a phrase “If you want peace, work for justice.” The key word in that phrase is work.

The ONLY way we can prevail over violence is love. Not the Hollywood drivel, but the tough love, the love that requires work to sacrifice self-interest and gain in order to do what is right as a witness to the truth.

We are here today to continue the work of peace, the work of justice, to say to the society around us: Enough! Rampant violence cannot go unchecked. Peace-MAKERS throughout the ages are our models and our inspirations, the stars in our hopeful sky for a better world.

We cannot allow the darkness created by violence to endure. With the author of Psalm 85 we say: “ I will hear what God proclaims, for he proclaims peace. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall embrace, truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” And with Isaiah, the prophet, we pray to “Let justice descend like the dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.”

Our call as people of peace is to do the hard work of bringing light into the world. May we have the courage of our convictions to be steadfast in the face of darkness as peace-MAKERS, and to counter the night of violence with the starry light of hope.