Peace on Earth
12/1/2017Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
The path to peace in the world, our families and our hearts begins with conformity to the virtues of Christ
ON THE FIRST Christmas night, the sky was lit with stars but shone brighter than ever with God’s glory. Born that night was Jesus, “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) and “the true light which enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:9). Filling this resplendent scene with song were the angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14) — words we often echo at Holy Mass.
Glory to God, peace on earth, good will in human relationships: Do these words not awaken in our hearts a deep longing? After all, we live in a world that is anything but peaceful. We live in the shadow of nuclear war and terrorism. Many fellow Christians and other believers suffer religious persecution. Millions of refugees are dispossessed and driven from their homes. Many at home and abroad suffer from poverty, racism, lack of health care and economic inequality. Peace is threatened by the lack of reasoned dialogue among political leaders, nationally and internationally. Nor can we overlook the societal discord and lack of civility so painfully evident, for example, in social media.
The angels’ greeting for the Prince of Peace may also strike close to home, for many families suffer from a lack of peace. At Christmas, those things that divide our families weigh heavily on our hearts. Every family has its disagreements, but in some they harden into grudges and alienation; discordant relationships can also disrupt the workplace and other communities we belong to. Ultimately, if we want to have peace in the world, we cannot neglect the disordered state of our own hearts.
VIRTUE AND ORDER
A popular hymn begins: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” I used to complain about those lyrics because they seemed self-centered. “Peace doesn’t begin with me, but with Jesus,” I mumbled as others poured their hearts into this song. Of course, that’s true: Jesus is the source of our peace. Yet, as time went by, I began to understand something that the Word of God and great spiritual writers constantly teach us. When our lives are in order, the peace of Jesus reigns in us and we become sources of true peace in a divided world. When our lives are hobbled by various forms of disorder, we contribute to the world’s divisions and discord.
A well-ordered life is not necessarily a tidy, predictable life, nor is it exempt from pressures and stresses. Rather, an orderly life is a virtuous life, lived in the real world. Virtues are those firm qualities of character that help us to live in a right relationship to God, to others and to ourselves.
The three theological virtues (faith, hope and love) help us to live in a right relationship to God. The four cardinal (pivotal) virtues are stable qualities of mind and intellect that govern our appetites and actions in accord with reason and faith. They enable us to relate to others in a wholesome and generous way while respecting our own Godgiven dignity. These four virtues are prudence (by which we discern what is good), justice (by which we are constantly and firmly disposed to give God and others what is their due), fortitude (by which we remain firm and constant in the midst of difficulties) and temperance (by which we achieve mastery over our appetites and govern our emotions).
Those who acquire these virtues live orderly, peaceful lives and are a source of peace for others. By contrast, those who are disconnected from God and whose appetites and emotions are out of control bring havoc, loneliness and bitterness to themselves and others.
THE WORD BECAME FLESH
The theological virtues are received in baptism, the result of the grace of the Holy Spirit. We acquire the moral virtues through effort and practice while aided by grace. When these virtues take root deep in our mind and heart, we begin to live a well-ordered life — a life in which we have the interior strength to love God with our mind, heart and spirit and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Think of how different the world would be if we all opened our hearts to the theological virtues and entered into a deeper relationship with the living God. Think of how good the world would be if, in God’s grace, everyone strived to attain the moral virtues and self-mastery.
With this in mind, let us look at Jesus with the eyes of faith. He is God’s eternal Son who assumed our humanity, and it is through his humanity that we are saved. The Son of God became man so that he could offer himself totally to the Father and to us. His gift of self is meant to shape who we are and how we live.
The Child in the manger shows us how much God must love us if he would send his Son to save us from our sins, as well as how highly God regards our humanity that his Son would become one of us. The humanity of Jesus is a model for our humanity, exemplifying the Beatitudes and every virtue.
So as Christmas approaches, let us open our hearts to Jesus, true God and true man. Let us ask him for the grace of the Holy Spirit to put our lives in order, modeled on and sharing in Christ’s sacred humanity. Our conformity to his humanity is a lifelong process of growing in intimacy with Jesus through prayer, the sacraments and service to others. The closer we are drawn to Christ and the more our humanity reflects his goodness and love, the greater will be our peace and the better equipped we will be to bring peace to a troubled world.