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The Violence of Peacemaking

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 12, 2023

St. Augustine teaches that the remedy to our restless hearts is “the tranquility of order.” Across the expanse of the Mass, from the Gloria to the Agnus Dei, we pray for peace. Peace does not begin with you and me; peace begins and ends with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, in Holy Communion. Even after a lifetime of practicing the Faith, we cannot depend upon ourselves for peace of soul, much less world peace.

Peace is also a frequent theme in sacred hymnody, for better and sometimes for worse. Hymns such as “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” the 1955 tune—with its popular Broadway style—accents sentimentality: “and let it begin with me!” But sentimentality can be an enemy of peace when it neglects the violence of peacemaking.

Although the absence of war falls short as a working definition of peace, it’s a good start. Roman violence brought the absence of war to the ancient world. Rome’s military machine seized massive sections of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Rome occupied Israel. But the Romans undoubtedly had a historical memory of the dangers of interfering with the Jewish religion when their armies conquered the Hasmonean Kingdom in 63 BC.

The army of Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East a couple of hundred years before the birth of Jesus and faced a revolt by the Maccabean Jews. After the initial Maccabean success, the Greeks brutally suppressed the rebellion and put to death the courageous Jews who participated in the revolt. But Maccabean violence, even in failure, had the effect of impressing upon their enemies—including the Romans—that they tamper with the faith of the Jews at their own risk.

The memory of the Maccabean rebellion and the threat of violence shielded Jewish worship during the Roman occupation. The Romans—as an exception to their rule—did not force the Jews to worship their ridiculous gods as a sign of loyalty to Caesar. They permitted the Jews to worship the one God in peace.

The threat of violence also protected Roman rule. Caesar appointed a governor to oversee the country. When the natives were restless, they made examples of the unfortunate zealots. Golgotha, the “Place of the Skull,” loomed outside the walls of Jerusalem. There was nothing like a crucifixion to keep the peace and dissuade aspirations to throw off the yoke of the Romans. The threat of crucifixion kept the peace.

Both the violence of the Maccabees that protected Jewish worship and Roman violence that maintained peace prepared the Chosen People to receive the Prince of Peace “in the fullness of time” (cf. Gal. 4:4). Hence, Jesus was born during the golden age of Pax Romana purchased and maintained by violence.

Even the Prince of Peace invokes violence to achieve the tranquility of order. Many of the teachings of Jesus are disturbing to the ears of pacifists:

I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Lk. 12:49-53)

Peace requires the violent disruptions that bring and maintain justice. The absence of war and economic prosperity are insufficient for authentic peace. The culture cannot reconcile truth and error, virtue and vice, Christian chastity and pornography, a medical doctor who takes the Oath of Hippocrates and an abortionist. The violence of choosing a life of Christian virtue is the only remedy for the injustice of cultural contradictions.

The violence of spiritual combat disrupts our hearts and even invades the kingdom of heaven. In an enigmatic passage in the Gospel, Jesus speaks of John the Baptist:

Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Mt. 11:11-13 DR)

In a homily, “On the Preparation for the Lord’s Coming,” St. Maximus explains how heaven suffers violence: “

We do violence…against the Lord, not by compelling, but by weeping; not provoking Him by insults, but by pleading with tears of repentance; not by blaspheming in pride, but by grieving in humility.... Let us attack the Lord.… Let us take from Him His kingdom, His treasures, and His life. But He is so rich and so generous that He will not resist us, and when He has given us all that is His, He still possesses all things. Let us assault Him, I say, not with sword or staff, or stone, but with mildness, with good works, with chastity.

The quest for peace seizes the violence of virtue rooted in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Peace cannot do without the violence of self-denial, repentance, humility, mildness, good works, and chastity. Jesus grants His peace to those who suffer the violent unpleasantness of self-accusation. (Perhaps the most difficult phrase in the English language is, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”) The violence of self-indictment concludes with the confession of sins and the sacramental absolution that brings us the tranquility of order.

The season of Advent prepares us for the coming of the Prince of Peace. Are we violent enough to bring the peace of Jesus into our hearts? Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with Jesus and the violence of a good Confession.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rfr46 - Dec. 13, 2023 10:55 AM ET USA

    Thank you very much Father Pokorsky. Not a message often heard today but more and more necessary for good people to understand.