Given a chance, peace is possible

By  Rolf Pedersen, Catholic Register Special
  • July 13, 2009
{mosimage}John Dear on Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Patricia Patten Normile, S.F.O. (St. Anthony Messenger Press, softcover, 137 pages, $17.55).

Millions pray for peace. Many strive for peace and some of us even act on the premise that world peace is possible. Yet peace clearly remains frustratingly elusive and increasingly, it seems, a pipe dream.

Jesuit Father John Dear, whose life and work is summarized in this slim volume, takes peacemaking seriously. So does the author.

That does not render either very agreeable. Nor will it endear either Dear or Normile to every Christian.  

{sa 0867168544}But winning friends is neither Dear’s objective nor the book’s aim. Making peace is. So is demonstrating that the way of Christ is the way of resolute non-violence. Among other achievements on the way to this goal, Dear has managed to be arrested more than 75 times for acts of civil disobedience in protesting U.S. involvement in war and nuclear arms development. He has spent eight months in jail on behalf of this cause.

In addition to explaining something of Dear and why he is worth a closer look, this book is a useful and intriguing discussion and spiritual guide. It demands reflective meditation on Scripture. It does not sugar-coat peace and violence issues, nor the human penchant for vengeance. But it does insist that world peace is possible through active non-violence and prayer.

How? An obsessive dedication to the cause of peace and justice would seem to be a requisite. Dear has it. He has written extensively about peace and is a past director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, one of the largest interfaith peace organizations in the United States. He is currently co-ordinator of Pax Christi New Mexico. He also campaigns relentlessly to close Livermore Laboratories and disarm Los Alamos, centres of U.S. atomic research and development.

Another requirement for peace would seem to be a fearless disregard for a moral culture which justifies the tendency to strike back when we, or those we love, are harmed. Outrage, whether it is road rage, domestic rage, sports rage, government rage, even self rage, engulfs us. Much of this outrage springs from real injustices. As both Dear and the author insist, it is probably not possible to expunge our outrage entirely. It is possible, however, to bring about just resolutions to unjust situations by making ourselves acutely aware of people and potentially troublesome situations around us.

A third requirement for peace is simply to keep watching. In doing so, wrote Dear, “we can see signs of God’s light breaking through our darkness and despair, giving us hope and encouragement, sending us forth to complete the work of justice and disarmament.”

In lifestyle terms for many North Americans, Dear advocates simplicity, voluntary poverty and downward mobility in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. If this were done, he reasons, “We would share the world’s resources with one another, have nothing to fear from one another and live in peace with everyone.”

This remarkably thoughtful book is pointedly addressed to a U.S. Catholic audience. But its pacifist message is universal. It contains practical spiritual exercises for the development of individual and small group contemplative non-violence that almost anybody can use. It’s a graceful read, and it begs to be put into practice. It’s almost enough to convince one that peace is possible.

(Pedersen is a Third Order Franciscan and a freelance journalist.)

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