New Year’s Day 2017 ~ The World Day of Peace
(the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God,
the last day of Hanukkah and the last day of Kwanzaa.)
Where are we, this New Year’s Day 2017, my friends?
Are we better off than we were a year ago?
What will 2017 bring for us?
Are we prepared for whatever the year will bring?
Will the economy get better or worse?
Will I keep my job? Get a raise? Get sick? Be able to pay my mortgage and bills?
Will some crisis happen that will affect our country, our state? Or some blessing?
Do we realize that “We never know” . . . what the next moment will bring?
We will elect a new President in our country in 20 days. What will he bring upon us?
We await his inauguration ~ some with welcome ~ others with fear and anxiety.
But Pope Francis takes us to a loftier plane this New Year’s Day than champagne bubbles, fireworks and football. For it’s also the World Day of Peace as the Vatican has proclaimed and invited world leaders to join the Pope for the last fifty years since Blessed Paul the VI began the practice. I invite you now to read excerpts from Francis’ proclamation for New Year’s Day 2017. His chosen subject is a difficult one, that of Nonviolence. It’s a familiar one to me as I invited my parishioners to take a Pledge of Nonviolence in 1992.
Here is Pope Francis’ message . . . .
At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, and make active nonviolence our way of life.
This is the fiftieth Message for the World Day of Peace. In the first, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed all peoples, not simply Catholics, with utter clarity. “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order”.
On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking.
While the last century knew the devastation of two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts, today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal.
Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.
The Good News
Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21). But Christ’s message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39). When he stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11), and when, on the night before he died, he told Peter to put away his sword (cf. Mt 26:52), Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross, whereby he became our peace and put an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts”.
To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence. . . . . Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution’”. The Gospel command to love your enemies (cf. Lk 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil…, but in responding to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:17-21), and thereby breaking the chain of injustice”.
Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: “We in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another… And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world”. For the force of arms is deceptive. “While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another”; for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is “a symbol, an icon of our times”.
The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.
Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice”.
If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that nonviolence be practised before all else within families. This is part of that joy of love which I described last March in my Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in the wake of two years of reflection by the Church on marriage and the family. The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness. From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society.
All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.
From the Vatican, December 8, 2016
This pope doesn’t hesitate to step onto the political arena of the world stage to give voice to the voiceless. I hope you’ve read his message with an open mind and open heart. But I’d wager that maybe you didn’t. So, why not pray about it? Nonviolence, even forgiving folks, is hard stuff. It requires humility. Taking the ol’ ego down a peg or two. And I’m not sure too many of our world leader have what that takes. And maybe you don’t have what it takes to make your marriage work or to forgive that friend you have a grudge against.
Well, anyway, here’s my New Year’s prayer, followed by the Prayer of St. Francis and the same in song.
Give us hope, Lord, this New Year’s Day.
A realistic hope that we might be a little kinder,
a little less self-centered,
a little more willing to go the extra mile for someone, even for a stranger.
Give us the strength to be ready for whatever may come.
May we have enough good health, enough for our needs.
and a little happiness with our sorrows.
Help us to bring together members of our family
and resolve difficulties when they arise with respect and love.
And, Lord, we hope our President-elect would heed the words of Pope Francis.
And please watch over the pope on his eightieth birthday.
And finally, give us the grace to be truly thankful, truly humble this New Year’s morning.
This is my prayer, Lord, for me, for our country, for our world.
And now, may we pray as St. Francis taught us . . .
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen!
May it be so! may it be so!
And now here’s this prayer sung by Angelina at Assisi. CLICK HERE. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.