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“We have just one moral duty, to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others.”
(Etty Hillesum, a Dutch holocaust diarist, wrote these words on September 29, 1942)

The Hebrew word for peace is ‘salem’ which is used by Jewish people in the use of Shalom – greeting and farewell – and in Arab countries as Salaam. The deepest meaning of these two words is harmony. An Islamic prayer reads: “Most gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility. When we address them we say, ‘Peace’.” Perhaps the politics of these two peoples can build on this common word and truly promote peace.

In the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus tells the apostles that he will have to leave them soon, but that they should not be anxious or fearful. He teaches them about the Holy Spirit and comforts them with the reassurance that the Spirit will always be with them. And then he says, “Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you” (verse 27). By these words, Jesus defined peace in a profoundly spiritual way; it touches the soul of a person.

We can look at peace in many ways. Here are three: The Personal, Interpersonal, and Global.

THE PERSONAL: some images that come to mind – inner stillness, serenity, tranquility, the “restful waters” of Psalm 23. St. Paul describes peace as the fruit of ‘spiritual mindfulness.’ The Dalai Lama believes that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental bases of peace. What brings you peace? Do you find it in contemplative prayer moments, in nature, a quiet place in your home, or in a church setting? We need these quiet times to stay consciously connected to the deep peace within. Our lives are filled with activities; it is so easy to get lost in them.

THE INTERPERSONAL: “Blessed are you because at all times and at every moment you want to be an instrument of peace; seeking unity, understanding, and reconciliation above all things” (Jean Vanier). Making a commitment to this dimension of peace takes us into the realms of forgiving those who have hurt us, stepping out of our ‘comfort zone’ by reaching out to those who are very different than ourselves, and choosing trust over suspicion of the other.

GLOBAL PEACE: “There can be no peace among nations without peace among religions. This is so because religion tends to become ideology and, if taken to extremes, can be used in the pursuit of cruel and inhuman designs” (Hans Kung). How might I promote respect for religious beliefs different than my own? What fears keep me from understanding others’ creeds from their point of view? Christians base this quest on the words of Jesus, “That all may be one, as you Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:21).

NOTE: “Beatitudes for the Workplace,” by Max Oliva, S.J., has just been published by Novalis (Toronto: Available in the U.S. through 23rd Publications, 800-321-0411 to order)

(May 2009 Newsletter)


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