Peace on earth Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes by Fr. Donald Lange

On Christmas day in 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow listened to Christmas bells ring out the good news of peace on earth. But he lacked the Christmas spirit of peace.

He was still suffering from the tragic death of his wife Fanny in 1861. And Charles, his son, had been wounded in our country's bloody civil war, which he feared would kill or wound many more Americans.

As Longfellow listened, he expressed his fearful doubts about Christmas peace in a poem "Christmas Bells." Later this poem became the carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." One painful stanza read,

"And in despair I bowed my head,/ There is no peace on earth," I said./ For hate is strong and mocks the song/ Of peace on earth and good will to men."

After writing this verse, Longfellow experienced a surge of hope and he wrote:

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,/ God is not dead nor doth he sleep./ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,/ With peace on earth, good will to men."

Peace: Jesus' gift to us

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Jesus redeemed us from our sins and taught us how to live in peace as members of our human family. After his Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to invite us to "beat our swords into plowshares and make war no more."

Jesus taught us to respond to violence by turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and forgiving enemies. Peace was his farewell gift to us. In Matthew 26:52 Jesus said, "Put back your sword to where it belongs. Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it."

Billy Graham said that if visitors came from outer space, they might conclude that war was earth's major occupation. Arguably the 20th century was the bloodiest century in history. This Christmas, wars, terrorism, and other violence rear their ugly, familiar faces.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says, "The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race. The harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured." Disarmament must be encouraged.

Not merely the absence of war

The Catechism says, "Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is not limited to maintaining a balance of power between adversaries. Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity."

In their pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace," the American bishops urge us to work for peace. They state that peace happens when we respect the sacredness of all human life.

Reverence for life diminishes when we accept any form of violence as commonplace. As Longfellow suggests in his poem, to enjoy peace, we must reject hatreds that lead to war. We also must work to eliminate the poverty, injustice, and deprivation of human rights that arm hearts for war.

Our vocation as peacemakers

Our vocation is to be peacemakers. To be such persons, the bishops recommend that we read Scripture, pray to Jesus, Prince of Peace, and invoke Mary, Queen of Peace. As we pray the family rosary, we should also pray for those in the armed forces.

In number 168 of the encyclical Pacem in Terris Blessed Pope John XXIII wrote, "So magnificent is this aim (for peace) that human resources alone, even though inspired by the most praiseworthy good will, cannot hope to achieve it. God himself must come to man's aid with his heavenly assistance." And God will, if we ask.

Christ embraced a human nature so he could teach us how to live as a family of peace. In a peaceful family we learn to treat each other with reverence, love, and forgiveness. Peaceful families train us to respond to difficult situations in non-violent ways.

At Christmas, may we disarm our hearts of violence and invite Jesus to fill them with peace.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.