Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (Jn 14:27)
This is part of Jesus’ farewell pep talk to the disciples. Although they do not get it, Jesus wants to reassure them. This is also written for the Johannine community as it tries to grasp the reality of Jesus after the resurrection, after the time he is no longer present to them in the same way he had been. It is written for us as we live in a world where peace is secured by the sword.
We had a wonderful Pax Christi Florida Retreat with Simon Harak, SJ. He is a theologian and director of the Peace Center at Marquette University. I have been trying to do lectio divina when I read the scriptures. Simon re-introduced me to the Ignatian method. Place yourself in the scene. What is this saying to you now. This approach is consistent with the contemplative approach because it is based on personal experience of the Word of God.
[One BTW before we continue. When the provincial asked Simon to leave the Baltimore Province of the Jesuits, all turned out well. Simon ended up living with a Jesuit community in New York City, including Dan Berrigan and John Dear. I count myself blessed because I have had the opportunity over the last ten years to be on retreat with these apostles of nonviolence. Thank God for the Jesuits!]
Jesus is offering peace—shalom—to the disciples. Shalom means more than peace. It means total well-being, I immediately remember one of the post-resurrection appearances, “Peace be with you.” “Yes, peace be with you. I know you abandoned me, scattered in fright and denied me, but I once again offer you peace.”
As I listen to Jesus’ words about how the peace he offers is different from the peace the world offers. My mind races to the United Nations just yesterday. President Ahmadinejad addresses the UN and berates the US for its nuclear stockpile. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, later berates Ahmadinejad and questions his integrity. The beat goes on. What credibility does the US, with its large nuclear stockpiles, have to tell other nations they cannot have a few of the same. The bottom line is that this is the peace which the world cannot give. It is peace at the tip of the sword. It is peace under the shadow of nuclear deterrence. It is the peace of the Pax Romana that Jesus knew so well. I know a woman who prays for our troops “who work for peace and justice around the world.” This is not the peace that Jesus offers.
As I sat in my chair reflecting, I understood why Jesus had to tell the disciples not to let their hearts be troubled or to be afraid. This is scary stuff. Is Jesus asking us to stand defenseless before the world? I think so but many people would not buy that. We are all so much into our little egos and our security that we find this teaching really difficult.
Merton wrote a letter to the American bishops during the Second Vatican Council. (You remember the Vatican Council. It is the Council that JP II and B16 have been trying to erase from the collective memory of the people of God.) He asked them how they could proclaim a Gospel message of love and go on approving war and nuclear proliferation. Merton said that he was not a pacifist; however, the horrors of total war—carpet bombings, buzz bombings, nuclear blast—convinced him that total war is immoral. Gaudium et spes condemned the inordinate killing of civilians in war and questioned nuclear weapons. The American bishops later, when national bishop conferences spawned bu Vatican II still had some credibility, called for an end to nuclear stockpiles and condemned nuclear deterrence as a strategy for peace. Most “pray, pay, and obey” pew potatoes are not aware of any of this teaching.
Merton, unafraid and untroubled, paid a price for his witness. Dom Gabriel, the French Gaullist Cistercian Superior General, ordered Merton to cease publishing anything on war and nuclear weapons. In an act of creative disobedience, Merton began to mimeograph his writings and to distribute them to his friends. (France under de Gaulle wanted to be a player in the nuclear arms race.)
Nuclear deterrence is the peace the world can give. It is light years removed from the peace that Jesus offers.
Life is a process of coming into deeper awareness of the God within us. It is a process of letting go of our false selves. It is a process of shedding ego. It is a process of becoming detached from possessions which need to be protected. Ego/false self seeks security. Ego/false self seeks the peace the world can give.
The choice is clear. We can choose the peace the world can give or we can choose the peace Jesus offers. As for me and my family, we will try to let go of our tribal, instinctual fears and work toward accepting the peace Jesus offers. Or, as Deuteronomy says, we can choose life or death. Accepting the peace Jesus offers is eternal life now.