Pope Francis has invited all people to reflect on the important work of building peace. Below, Fr. David Poirier, SA, Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Promoter (JPIC) for the Friars of the Atonement offers his reflections on the World Day of Peace, celebrated in the Catholic Church on January 1 each year.

Since being appointed to the position of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation Promoter for the Friars of the Atonement I have had to do a lot of soul searching about what those terms mean and how my own life reflects them. Goodness knows, the more I reflect the more I realize that I have a great deal of personal house cleaning to do in terms of being fit for my assignment. I have also realized, however, that if I wait for perfection in my own life before speaking out on these issues I’ll never utter a sound in their defense. What follows is my own take on the implications of observing a World Day of Prayer for Peace.

During my lifetime January 1st has gone by four different names: the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, the Octave Day of Christmas, and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The fourth title attached to this day (by Pope Paul VI in 1968) is perhaps the least known moniker by which this day is designated. It is, however, perhaps the most important observance scheduled for January 1st in terms of the well-being of the whole human family. It is also the most likely to be ignored and even opposed by the many.

“[F]rom the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely [….] Saying, ‘Peace, peace, ’but there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:13

The fact is that in our world today the prophet’s words still ring true: there is no peace. Oh! For many life goes on relatively free from threat of physical violence; multi-nationals continue to rake in profits; not many places are overrun by armored cars, and tanks and guns; famine doesn’t impinge on the comfort of those privileged to live in ‘advanced’ societies, nor until recently have drought or flood been a regular facet of life for most of us. Yet radioactive waste still escapes into the atmosphere with startling regularity, and sites polluted with carcinogenic toxins are for the most part still right where they were decades ago when some whistle-blowers pointed them out. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to grow (there is one in the Atlantic too, in case you are wondering.) Men and women still grow rich off the fruits of child labor, and others grow richer still in the world of human trafficking.

With the advent and burgeoning of COVID-19 folks in the privileged world have arguably had their sense of security disturbed or threatened, except for those who claim that COVID-19 is all a hoax, but they seem to die of it just as readily as those who believe it’s real. Civil unrest and widespread rioting didn’t use to be part of North American reality, but that too has become almost the norm rather than the exception these days. The refugee crisis that held the attention of the entire world only a few short years ago no longer occupies our thoughts despite the fact that every eighteen seconds someone somewhere in the world still becomes a refugee.

The one quote from Pope Paul VI that still gets trotted out for public consumption every now and then is this: “If you want peace work for justice!” A corollary to that piece of advice might be: “Where there is no peace justice has been abandoned, neglected, or perverted.” There is plenty of injustice to be denounced and eradicated in this world, more than enough work to go around for the peacemakers in the Lord’s vineyard. On January 1st the echo of Pope Paul’s voice will once again call men and women of good will to pray for peace, but insofar as that peace presupposes the reign of justice, not many will pray that prayer honestly. Injustice is just too profitable, comfortable, and persuasive. Those who do pray for peace will often mouth the words with no zeal in their hearts to make justice happen, or even to look at the ways in which we unconsciously embrace injustice in our own lives, because seeking justice would require us to change.

We all too often confuse a just society with a society in which we are comfortable, unthreatened, reasonably satisfied with our lot in life, a condition which allows us to be not overly concerned about, if not completely oblivious to, the lot in life enjoyed/endured by anyone else. The notion that a just society cares about the well being of the less fortunate falls flat on the ears of a society in which we believe that each individual has to make his/her own good fortune and that I should not be burdened with contributing to the support of those who cannot make it on their own, often precisely because of the obstacles that ‘polite society’ has placed in the way of their making on their own. The very notion that society has duties and obligations towards its members sparks the fear of socialism in the hearts of otherwise reasonable people.

Racism, sexism, ageism, nationalism and too many other -isms to count serve only to protect the privilege of the ‘in group’ while denying privilege to the other. Our fear is that if ‘those people’ had the same privileges that I have they wouldn’t be privileges any more, we wouldn’t be special or better than them any more. When the rubber meets the road, the very notion of ‘privilege’ is itself an unjust construct. Our whole manner of thinking has to change if we want truly to seek peace through justice.

Thanks be to God that He is a merciful God, a God who has compassion and who forgives, a God who has patience and gives us time to change our ways. On this year’s World Day of Prayer for Peace may we all truly open our hearts and minds to the influence of the Holy Spirit allowing Him to change us to the core so that we will sincerely seek that justice (personal, corporate, and environmental) that alone can bring peace to our world.