As I consider the hope that we celebrate with the birth of the one we call Emmanuel, “God among us,” I am led to reflect on Matthew’s telling of the massacre of the Holy Innocents. Christ Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and we recognize God’s great love for us in the way that Jesus heals our physical, spiritual and social needs. Yet Jesus’ goodness will also juxtapose and highlight the violence and injustice in our present social reality. God’s radical love for each of us will challenge the social powers of our world. Herod we know responded to this message with unimaginable cruelty. Society continued to respond with the instruments of violence and ultimately condemned Jesus to death, but our faith reminds us that society did not have the last word. Our Christian heritage is to be witnesses to the fact that Jesus lives and God’s love, our hope, will persevere.
Sadly, for us this is not a mere historical message. Recently we were scarred with the massacre of the innocents in a small town in Connecticut where 28 lives were lost. Our nation was moved to prayer and our thoughts went to the victims, their families, and the town that continues to live with this tragic experience. Fr. James Martin, SJ offered a powerful prayer that I shared in Facebook. In it he cries out to God in the midst of this tragedy but recalls that God, who suffered the death of His own Son, accompanied us on this painful journey. In an article written in America magazine Fr. Martin also reminds us that prayer can only be the first step. “Deep emotions are one way that God encourages us to act. Simply praying, ‘God, never let this happen again’ is insufficient for the person who believes that God gave us the intelligence to bring about lasting change.” Our faith tells us that God’s love will persevere. This tragedy must move us to bring about the peace of God in a world of violence. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops raised a call for action in response to the Newtown Tragedy challenging us to address the following actions:
1.Support measures that control the sale and use of firearms
2.Support measures that make guns safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner)
3.Call for sensible regulations of handguns
4.Support legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons including assault weapons
5.Make a serious commitment to confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.
I think it is nothing less than Providential that the 2013 World Day of Peace message by Pope Benedict XVI is titled “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Peace, Pope Benedict asserts, is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible.” Peace requires a new mindset based on a vision of solidarity which recognizes that “we are, in God, one human family.” In this annual message he offers the following “pedagogy for peacemakers.”
Thoughts, words and gestures of peace create a mentality and a culture of peace, and a respectful, honest and cordial atmosphere. There is a need, then, to teach people to love one another, to cultivate peace and to live with good will rather than mere tolerance. A fundamental encouragement to this is “to say no to revenge, to recognize injustices, to accept apologies without looking for them, and finally, to forgive,” in such a way that mistakes and offences can be acknowledged in truth, so as to move forward together towards reconciliation. This requires the growth of a pedagogy of pardon. Evil is in fact overcome by good, and justice is to be sought in imitating God the Father who loves all his children (cf. Mt 5:21-48).
This Christmas let us offer one another the gift of peace by embracing this pedagogy and becoming an agent of God’s love to one another as we prophetically address the social issues that we need to confront in our violent world.