When John Lennon recorded Give Peace a Chance in a hotel room in Montreal forty-six years ago, most people thought that he was hopelessly naive. Yet what could be more hopeful?
What is naive is to regard peace as something that can be secured without love? This is the intuition that we find in the prayer of Saint Francis: Make me an instrument of your peace. Real peace is not a work of magic; it’s the grace of God who is love. As the prayer says, it’s the result of taking a risk to bring God’s love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness and hope where there is despair.
Safety and wellbeing falsely promised with the building of walls, the fabrication of munitions and the adoption of xenophobic laws breed what we see around us: fear, alienation and rage. This is not new. For this very reason, Jesus offered his peace, not the counterfeit victory that the world claims as the outcome of deceit and coercion.
Jesus tried to tell us, despite our incredulity, that we’d only achieve peace if we loved our enemies. We chose to ignore that admonition then, and we’re no wiser today.
The good news is that the Spirit of God dwells amid the rubble of the human heart as a light that will not be diminished by the darkness. God will not be thwarted by the posturing and agitation of the false self, the frightened and dwarfed part of our being that finds it so difficult to give peace a chance, to love our enemies.
Lasting peace is forged in the crucible of love, on the embers of the immolated false self. It is built with generous and forgiving hearts that are shaped by hope. Such hope cannot come from pathological optimism, which would eventually shatter under the weight of evil, but it must be painfully born from faith in God’s goodness (Saint Francis) and the grace that is everywhere (Bernanos.)
Peace forms in the human heart. For it to be born, it must overcome inner darkness. Saint Francis understood that. One author writes, “The pacifier, the preacher of peace, must first of all be himself a peaceful man if he wants his mission to be successful.” (De Ruite) For the poverello, inner peace was the result of an arduous, even painful and life-long process.
Commenting on the Christian moral imperative to love, a Buddhist roshi writes, “The experience underlying ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ has to be the experience that the other is no other than myself.” (Aitken) This principle coheres with the widely held belief among psychologists that ‘what we see in others we fear in ourselves’ (title of an article in Psychology Today, 2011.)
To be a man or woman of peace now and always is to look upon ourselves and others with joy in the active grace of God and humility to suffer the darkness in us and in the world. The word ‘suffer’ means to bear from below, sub-ferre. (Steindl-Rast) Compassion and mercy are the fruits of an authentic embrace of all that is broken inside and around us. This reminds us of Saint Francis kissing a leper who he previously feared and disdained. This was an important turning point in his quest for religious meaning, the moment that inaugurated the journey of peace that was to become the hallmark of his life.