From the Cardinal: Peace, the work of justice, the effect of charity | November 3, 2023
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Vol. 5. No. 4
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
During my time of service to my religious order, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), I had the privilege of traveling to more than 70 different countries in very diverse parts of the world. In spite of the many differences that I observed in places where there were distinct cultures, languages, political structures and religions, I discovered that one thing everyone has in common is the desire for peace.
Peace has once again been shattered in the land that is considered to be holy ground by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. God’s children are once again at war with one another, making their common hope for peace seem unattainable. As Pope Francis has said, “The plea for peace cannot be suppressed: it rises from the hearts of mothers; it is deeply etched on the faces of refugees, displaced families, the wounded and the dying.”
Peace is such a simple, universal concept. Why is it so hard to achieve—in our personal lives, our families, our neighborhoods and our world?
Peace is the absence of violence, but it’s also much more. St. Augustine called it “the tranquility of order,” which is certainly an important aspect of peace.
When we’re at peace, we’re not filled with anxiety; our homes are not filled with loud arguments and discord; our neighborhoods are safe and well-ordered, not threatening or chaotic; and nations, races and peoples live together in harmony and mutual respect without suffering the horrors of prejudice, enmity or war.
But true peace is more than just good order or civility. The Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes, #78) teaches that peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity. Peace is much more than the absence of war or the coexistence of nations. Peace is a gift from God, the sum total of many gifts from God that help us live fully with hearts full of justice and love.
Justice means giving every human being the reverence and respect due to him or her as a child of God. Justice is structuring human affairs, and the organization of society, in accordance with God’s plan.
We are just when we treat others fairly, and when we work together to protect the innocent and the vulnerable from violence or evil. We are just when all people—wealthy and poor, strong and weak—live together in mutual respect and love.
Love is the sharing of self that we learn most perfectly from God, who is Love, and who shows us how to be for others in everything we say and do. Authentic love is not self-serving or self-gratifying. It is the generous sharing of ourselves in ways that connect us intimately with God and with our fellow human beings—those who are closest to us (family, friends and neighbors) and those who are far from us (strangers, social outcasts, even enemies).
True peace, the peace that lasts, happens when we work for justice. It is the product of the hard work of civilization, the rule of law and the right-ordering of social structures. Peace requires fairness, respect for human dignity and the refusal to take advantage of another’s weakness. More than four decades ago, Pope Paul VI pointed out most forcefully that if we want peace, we must work for justice—here at home and around the world.
Lasting peace—the kind that is more than a temporary ceasefire or a periodic break between hostile actions—is the effect of charity. There is no real peace without forgiveness or without the willingness to sacrifice our individual or collective self-interest for the sake of genuine harmony. If we want peace, we must let go of our desire for revenge, and we must be willing to let old wounds heal through the saving grace of God’s love.
Peace has been made possible for us because, by the blood of his cross, Christ has reconciled us with God and with each other. We have been forgiven so that we may forgive others. We have been shown mercy, so that we might let go of our desire for vengeance against those who do us harm to a higher form of justice that is informed by love.
According to Pope St. John XXIII (see below), “Peace on Earth, which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after, can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.” Peace will only happen when we “let go and let God.” When that day comes, nations will unite in a world order that respects the fundamental human rights and authentic cultural diversity of nations and peoples. Neighbors will help and respect one another. Families will live together joyfully. And each woman and man on Earth will be calm, untroubled and at peace.
Let us join with our sisters and brothers in the Holy Land, Ukraine, several areas in Africa, and throughout the world in fervent, heartfelt prayer for peace, justice and reconciliation. Let us work tirelessly to make peace with justice a reality in our hearts, our communities, and among all nations and peoples.
Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer,
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Newark
Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth)
(A selection from the 1963 Encyclical of Pope St. John XXIII)
Peace on Earth—which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after—can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order. But what emerges first and foremost from the progress of scientific knowledge and the inventions of technology is the infinite greatness of God Himself, who created both man and the universe.
Any well-regulated and productive association of men in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle: that each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature, that is, endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable.
Pope Leo XIII declared that “true freedom, freedom worthy of the sons of God, is that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice. Such is the freedom which has always been desired by the Church, and which she holds most dear. It is the sort of freedom which the Apostles resolutely claimed for themselves. The apologists defended it in their writings; thousands of martyrs consecrated it with their blood.”
Now the order which prevails in human society is wholly incorporeal in nature. Its foundation is truth, and it must be brought into effect by justice. It needs to be animated and perfected by men’s love for one another, and, while preserving freedom intact, it must make for an equilibrium in society which is increasingly more human in character.
When society is formed on a basis of rights and duties, men have an immediate grasp of spiritual and intellectual values and have no difficulty in understanding what is meant by truth, justice, charity and freedom. They become, moreover, conscious of being members of such a society. And that is not all. Inspired by such principles, they attain to a better knowledge of the true God—a personal God transcending human nature. They recognize that their relationship with God forms the very foundation of their life—the interior life of the spirit, and the life which they live in the society of their fellows.
Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous without the presence of those who, invested with legal authority, preserve its institutions and do all that is necessary to actively sponsor the interests of all its members. And they derive their authority from God, for, as St. Paul teaches, “there is no power but from God.” Hence, a regime which governs solely or mainly by means of threats and intimidation or promises of reward, provides men with no effective incentive to work for the common good. And even if it did, it would certainly be offensive to the dignity of free and rational human beings.
Authority is before all else a moral force. For this reason, the appeal of rulers should be to the individual conscience, to the duty which every man has of voluntarily contributing to the common good. But since all men are equal in natural dignity, no man has the capacity to force internal compliance on another. Only God can do that, for He alone scrutinizes and judges the secret counsels of the heart. Hence, representatives of the State have no power to bind men in conscience, unless their own authority is tied to God’s authority, and is a participation in it.
The application of this principle likewise safeguards the dignity of citizens. Their obedience to civil authorities is never an obedience paid to them as men. It is in reality an act of homage paid to God, the provident Creator of the universe, who has decreed that men’s dealings with one another be regulated in accordance with that order which He Himself has established. And we men do not demean ourselves in showing due reverence to God. On the contrary, we are lifted up and ennobled in spirit, for to serve God is to reign.
Governmental authority, therefore, is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since “it is right to obey God rather than men.”
The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities. In working for the common good, therefore, the authorities must obviously respect its nature, and at the same time adjust their legislation to meet the requirements of the given situation.
A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope
(A selection from the message of Pope Francis to participants in the International Meeting for Peace organized by the Community of Sant’ Egidio, Berlin, September 10-12, 2023)
Unfortunately, over the years, the hope of a new world peace following the Cold War was not built on a common hope, but on special interests and mutual mistrust. Thus, instead of tearing down walls, more walls have been erected. And sadly, it is often a short step from wall to trench. Today, war still ravages too many parts of the world. I am thinking of several areas in Africa and the Middle East, but also of many other regions of the planet, including Europe, which is enduring a war in Ukraine. It is a terrible conflict with no end in sight, and which has caused death, injury, pain, exile, and destruction.
Last year I was with you in Rome, at the Colosseum, to pray for peace. We listened to the cry of a peace that has been sullied and trampled upon. On that occasion, I said: “[T]he plea for peace cannot be suppressed: it rises from the hearts of mothers; it is deeply etched on the faces of refugees, displaced families, the wounded and the dying. And this silent plea rises up to heaven. It has no magic formulas for ending conflict, but it does have the sacred right to implore peace in the name of all those who suffer, and it deserves to be heard. It rightfully summons everyone, beginning with government leaders, to take time and listen, seriously and respectfully. That plea for peace expresses the pain and the horror of war, which is the mother of all poverty” (Address at the Prayer Meeting for Peace, 25 October 2022).
We cannot resign ourselves to this scenario. Something more is needed. We need the “audacity of peace”, which is at the heart of your meeting. Realism is not enough, political considerations are not enough, the strategic approaches implemented so far are not enough. More is needed, because war continues. What is called for is the audacity of peace – right now, because too many conflicts have lasted far too long, so much so that some never seem to end. In a world where everything speeds by, only the end to war seems slow. It takes courage to know how to move in another direction, despite obstacles and real difficulties. The audacity of peace is the prophecy required of those who hold the fate of warring countries in their hands, of the international community, of us all. It is especially the case with regard to believing men and women, that they give expression to the cries of mothers and fathers, to the heartbreak of the fallen, and to the futility of destruction, and so denounce the madness of war.
Yes, the audacity of peace challenges believers in a particular way to transform it into prayer, to invoke from heaven what seems impossible on earth. Insistent prayer is the first kind of audacity. In the Gospel, Christ points out the “need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk 18:1), saying: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Lk 11:9). Let us not be afraid to become beggars for peace, joining our sisters and brothers of other religions and all those who do not resign themselves to the inevitability of conflict. I join you in your prayer for an end to war, thanking you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do.
It is indeed necessary to press forward in order to surmount the wall of the impossible, constructed on the apparently irrefutable reasoning arising from the memory of such great sorrow and so many wounds suffered in the past. It is difficult, but not impossible. It is not impossible for believers, who live the audacity of a hopeful prayer. But it must not be impossible for politicians, leaders or diplomats either. Let us continue to pray for peace without losing heart, to knock with a humble and insistent spirit at the ever-open door of God’s heart and at the doors of humankind. Let us ask that ways to peace be opened, especially for beloved and war-torn Ukraine. Let us trust that the Lord always hears the anguished cry of his children. Hear us, Lord!
My Prayer for You
Please join me in praying for peace with these words from Pope St. John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris #171:
Let us, then, pray with all fervor for this peace which our divine Redeemer came to bring us. May He banish from the souls of men whatever might endanger peace. May He transform all men into witnesses of truth, justice and brotherly love. May He illumine with His light the minds of rulers, so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may also guarantee them the fairest gift of peace.
Finally, may Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong. Through His power and inspiration may all peoples welcome each other to their hearts as brothers and may the peace they long for ever flower and ever reign among them.