By Marc Tumeinski, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology and Program Director of Graduate Theology
Recent events in the Capitol and across this country were a stark reminder of the fragility of peace, and the necessity to search for truth and work toward real justice. This is not only a political challenge but one that calls on each of us individually and in concert with others to build up peace in our own social circles, in our local communities, in this country and even around the world. Where can we start?
Throughout this academic year, Anna Maria College is concentrating on the mission-related value of justice and peace:
- Acknowledging our place within the world, the College emboldens our students to identify injustices and to contribute peaceful solutions to those injustices.
During the 75th anniversary of Anna Maria, we are especially grateful for the work and example of the Sisters of St. Anne. Motivated by their Christian faith and guided by the witness of Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin, the Sisters are role models in the ways that they build up peace and justice, quietly yet powerfully and persistently doing the work of education, health care, and standing with the marginalized. The charism and the history of the Sisters are worth reflecting upon in light of a prophetic description of Jesus in the Bible:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1-4)
This passage describes an admirable perseverance, working without fanfare for a justice that all can enjoy. No matter where we stand politically, the responsibility and the challenge of peacemaking remain central concerns in our world today, and are essential components of the broader educational mission of the College. As an academic institution, we can turn to the Catholic intellectual tradition for a deeper understanding of what it means to truly build peace.
The Catholic intellectual tradition understands peace as the fullness of a flourishing life, which encompasses four domains of relationship: with God, oneself, other people, and all of creation. This holistic sense of peace is both a gift and a responsibility; something we are grateful for and something we must work together to build up. Even in the face of significant, seemingly overwhelming, political, cultural and societal tensions and disputes, work for peace is possible. As the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and his widow Coretta Scott King so eloquently demonstrate, work for peace does not require violence, but rather is derailed by violence. We do well to remember this powerful witness, especially in light of recent events.
The Catholic intellectual tradition asserts that peace is built on four foundations: truth, justice, freedom, love.
- Truth. Pope John Paul II taught that “To build peace, it is necessary … to live in truth.” Truth can be discovered, shared with others, and lived out in peace. An education at Anna Maria “honors faith and reason as complementary paths of wisdom in the search for truth and meaning.” Students are cultivating the habits, skills and disciplines that will help them to separate fact from fiction and denial, and what is real from unreality. Truth is real, and moral truth is a necessary building block of peace. In the Catholic tradition, peace rests on a recognition of the moral truth that each human being is endowed by God with intrinsic and equal dignity. The building up of peace and reconciliation demands that we look for God’s imprint in every human being – whether family, friend, neighbor or even enemy. Such truth and peace surpass even profound political disagreements.
- Justice. Peace builds on justice, the promotion of the common good. The Christian is called to extend justice to all, not just to neighbors, friends and loved ones, but to outsiders, strangers and adversaries as well. Recent events may make this seem an impossible goal, but now is the time for individuals and communities to commit to restoring justice, which will involve working through disputes and seeking reconciliation. In justice and humility, we also recognize that each one of us is capable of causing harm to others through our own unjust actions. No one is perfect and we should not presume that we are always fully on the right side of justice. We can fall all too easily into a trap of demonizing the other while overlooking our own weaknesses, faults and injustices. Esther Blondin, foundress of the Sisters of St. Anne, wisely taught that “there is more happiness in forgiving than in revenge.” Justice and forgiveness will help restore a degree of wholeness, order and peace to our world.
- Freedom. Freedom and peace are connected. According to John Paul II, “Freedom will build peace and make it thrive if, in the choice of the means to that end, people act according to reason and assume responsibility for their own actions.” We can use our freedom to discern what is true and good, and to act on it, particularly on behalf of others. Freedom does not mean the absolute liberty to act on whatever we feel or believe, regardless of the consequences for others. We build up peace when we take personal responsibility for our decisions, our actions and the outcomes. This requires that we evaluate our decisions before acting, and strive to live up to high moral standards. Students at Anna Maria are expected “to develop as ethically responsible human beings, through serious reflection and active engagement.” Each one of us can freely use our gifts and talents to help those in need and to build up peace.
- Love. Again, from John Paul II: “Love will build peace if people feel the needs of others as their own and share what they have with others.” Love entails a desire to be in relationship with others, and to work for the good of others. It is imperative that we reach out to, and share with, all those in need of the basic goods of life, and those who survive on the fringes of society. Whatever our political stance, we can love and do something to help those who are in need to truly flourish. “In line with the values of the foundresses, the College stimulates within students a sense of responsibility and dedication to the community through selfless service to family, friends, colleagues and those in need.”
In the Christian tradition, love goes even further. In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon on a verse from the Biblical text Matthew chapter five, which recounts the following command from Jesus: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” King preached that such love entails understanding as well as redemptive goodwill for all people. “It is love that will save our world and our civilization … the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you.” Dr. King provided a timeless reminder of the power of persevering love that we so urgently need today.
These four foundations of truth, justice, freedom and love will help us to act with justice and mercy towards all – every friend, neighbor, outsider or opponent – even when others do not treat us justly, and even when it seems futile. With courage and boldness, we continue to live justly, do good for others, and freely share God’s gifts with those in need.