During the Peace Vigil (noon to five in my central US afternoon), I’d like to post hourly on things I’ve found this past week in my reading and research for materials.
Why do Catholics pray, and especially fast? What good does our empty, growling stomach do when dictators and embittered rebels tear each other apart and care little for who is pulled into their black hole of carnage and barbarism?
Prayers and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We may never succeed in this campaign, but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident. It is the great Christian task of our time. Everything else is secondary, for the survival of the human race itself depends upon it. We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. And the first job of all is to understand the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society.*
Every serious peacemaker looks within and sees the seed of violence: when we cut off another driver, when we brush aside someone else to get our place in line, when we nurse injury and dwell on all the reasons why the economy of life comes to this bottom line: other people owe us.
Thomas Merton is clear: success is peripheral to duty. We need to look closely at ourselves, though we may never be rid of our inner turmoil.
The first task, as the Trappist suggests, is an openness to understanding. Why do we want to fight? Why do my children, my spouse, and my parents find me objectionable? Why does my offensive neighbor want to battle me?
Then perhaps, we can look to our enemies. If we don’t understand why we battle with people we love, where is the hope for perceiving someone we dislike?
As we pray these five hours, perhaps we can place ourselves in the shoes of someone with whom we have difficulty. Maybe we can even resolve to ask the person about our conflict. It is a sacrifice more dangerous than abstaining from candy or alcohol or internet. But it promises a much richer, riper fruit.
*I believe this quote is from one of his “Seeds.” I copied the citation from a Merton website, but I couldn’t find it in my copy of Seeds of Contemplation.