When my four brothers and sisters and I were in the back seat of the car on some sort of a trip somewhere, the usual squabbles and arguments came to happen. When my mother or father sought to quiet us down and get some peace in that old Ford, it usually got louder before it got quieter with accusations like, “But she/he started it!” Finally, we were all told to be quiet; and so we were. Yet I recall that quiet did not mean peace.
The absence of war is not the definition of peace, although it is one major part of having peace. It might be said that the opposite of peace is violence. Dom Helder Camara, the late prophetic Archbishop of Racife, Brazil, once defined violence as anything that diminishes the dignity of another. That “anything” can be a word, action, or even silence that serves to deny or denigrate another person. Using this definition, we live in a very violent world and one can see that the violence in one’s own life is both outside and inside. Violence is ugly in any form, no matter how it is known or experienced. The fact that our culture has made violence a form of entertainment is a tragedy and one for which we are paying dearly.
Our Catholic tradition has long taught that one fundamental cornerstone of our moral teaching is the dignity and worth of each person at every stage of life and in any state in life. Each human life is precious and possesses incalculable value. Each life is from God and created in the image of God. This principle is the underpinning of all of our moral and social teaching as a Christian community. From our stand against abortion to the immorality of the death penalty; our commitment to the poor and our social services to the hungry and homeless; everything of this nature and more flows from our understanding and belief in the dignity of each person. Violence, it follows, willfully chosen and enacted in whatever form is wrong.
So many people are searching for that something that will satisfy and yield peace and, at times, the need can be so great that it leads to a sense of entitlement. This attitude only serves to diminish others and is a guarantee that peace will not be found. There are those who believe peace occurs only through one’s own making, by working hard and accumulating stuff. This way only leads to disappointment as time passes and it is discovered that peace continues to elude them.
Peace cannot be found in things or in diminishing others. Christianity holds that peace is a gift and is the clear sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. True peace is only found inside oneself and cannot be mandated or forced, purchased or acquired. In my experience, peace arrives when there is a harmony and togetherness with me, myself, and
God. It is usually a conscious choice to be in relationship with God – with a mature self-acceptance and faith that God is present, holds us close, and sustains us in all situations.
Yes, peace begins with fostering an honest relationship with God who through love, graces us with the ability to nurture a sense of self-respect, respect for others, and a moral compass to help us realize what really matters in life. And then, even when in the midst of turbulence on all sides, we can find peace. What a gift!
The back seat of the Ford did eventually become peaceful as each of us was called to mutual respect and fairness that helped us grasp that we were all equal, no matter our age and size. We were also reminded often of God’s presence in that car and in our lives, and invited to be thankful for God’s blessings. Indeed.