“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -MT 5:9
The beatitudes are familiar and are commonly quoted. It wasn’t until after I took a little more time with them that the verse about the peacemakers stuck out to me. Maybe because I have often found myself in situations where I could play that role or because when I look at the world today, I feel like we need many more peacemakers. As I thought about what it means to be a peacemaker, I was reminded of one of my favorite saints, Saint Pope John Paul II and his life as a peacemaker.
St. John Paul II faced great loss in his early life. His mother died when he was nine and his older brother died when he was 12. He became very close to his dad and felt his faith was influenced by this father. When he was 20 years old, his dad died. He said, “At twenty, I had already lost all the people I loved."
At age 19, the Nazis occupied his homeland of Poland and he experienced the evil and extreme hardships of living under the Nazi regime. His university was closed by the Nazis so he worked several years to earn a living. He eventually felt the call to the priesthood so he began studying through an underground seminary.
He didn’t let all of the suffering turn him bitter and angry. He is known for his great love, reaching out to so many. He encouraged many by using Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid.” He was known for traveling all over the world. He visited over 120 countries during his 27-year pontificate. He was a vocal advocate for human rights. He preached peace and took steps to bring about healing and reconciliation amongst various religious groups.
He is credited for having started the domino effect that ended communism in eastern Europe when he visited Poland in 1979. The people were being crushed by the rule of communism from the Soviet Union. A crowd of nearly one million gathered to hear Pope John Paul II’s message of hope as he told them to “be not afraid”. His visit brought about peaceful change and eventually the collapse of communism.
When I think about St. John Paul II and all that he accomplished in his life as a peacemaker, it inspires and encourages me. It's also a bit overwhelming as I try to figure out how I can do anything as meaningful. However, I think about my family, friends and role models in my own life. I have seen how individuals who have suffered great tragedies have found comfort, healing and peace by reaching out to others in need. I have seen even in my own children how small acts of love mean so much. It’s not about the big things. It’s about the small steps we can take everyday.
There are choices we can make everyday to follow Jesus’ example of spreading love and peace. How will we respond when someone posts something on social media that goes against our moral beliefs? What will be our role when there is a disagreement within our family or between friends? How can we teach our children and be a role model so they will be peacemakers amongst their peers? How do we respond when we see others hurting? How do we advocate for peace and justice?
Being the peacemaker is not an easy road to take. It can be uncomfortable to go against popular thought or to reach out when we’ve been hurt. However, it’s exactly these situations where God is calling us to rely upon His grace and love as He loves.
"Whenever you share love with others, you'll notice the peace that comes to you and to them." -St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Reflection Questions: 1. What steps can you make in your everyday life to be a peacemaker?
2. Sit with the following prayer. Where does it inspire/challenge you in your life?
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.