The challenge for us is to build a vision of peace. This will require courage to be introspective, to look deeply within ourselves and to ask difficult questions, to strip away the rhetoric and the hate.
Have you ever thought how this war on terror would end? Some say it will never end. They say fear is a permanent fixture of our lives. Don’t believe it! Wars are made by man and they can be stopped by man. John Kennedy made an inspired speech in the summer of 1963, 4 months before he was assassinated in Dallas, when he addressed the graduating class at American University. He asked Americans to look inside themselves and examine their attitudes as individuals and as a Nation.
“That every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward – by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace….Our problems are manmade – therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again.”
During the Cold War, Thomas Merton described a certain mentality of a highly oversimplified and mythical view of the world divided into two camps: that of darkness (our enemies) and that of light (ourselves), and while we see the enemy as “totally malevolent and totally dedicated to evil,” we see ourselves as “totally innocent and committed, buy our very nature, to truth, goodness, and light.” We demonize the enemy. It is part of war propaganda. Hate is a powerful motivator. It makes it easier to kill.
Can you forgive “them” for the September 11th attacks or are you outraged at the prospect of forgiveness? Can they forgive us? Have we, collectively, become prisoners of the past?
Pope John Paul II, who was not a pacifist but who passionately believed in peace, saw the possibility of being a prisoner to the past and how to overcome it.
“The truth is that we cannot remain a prisoner of the past, for individuals and peoples need a sort of “healing of memories” so that past evils will not come back again. This does not mean forgetting past events; it means reexamining them with a new attitude and learning precisely from the experience of suffering that only love can produce healing, whereas hatred produces only devastation and ruin…
…Certainly forgiveness does not come spontaneously or naturally to people. Forgiveness from the heart can sometimes be heroic – the pain of losing a child, a brother or sister, one’s parents, or one’s whole family as a result of war, terrorism, or criminal acts can lead to total closing off of oneself from others. People who have been left with nothing because they have been deprived of their land and home, refugees, and those who have endured the humiliation of violence cannot fail to feel the temptation for hatred and revenge. Only the warmth of human relationships marked by respect, understanding, and acceptance can help them to overcome such feelings.
…Real peace is not just a matter of structures and mechanisms. It rests, above all, on the adoption of a style of human coexistence marked by mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart…Asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of every one of us; sometimes it is the only way out of situations market by age-old and violent hatred.” Pope John Paul II, Go In Peace, 2003.
How does the war on terror end? How will you end it?
There is urgency to this question of peace. With each passing week, with each passing year it becomes more difficult for us to question long held assumptions. Our hearts become harder. Their hearts become harder. We begin to see war as an inevitable part of our existence.
We do not have the luxury of waiting…