In this year we remember the outbreak of WWI 100 years ago, caused by “some damn foolish things in the Balkan.” The outbreak of WWII 75 years ago was the result of Hitler's racist and imperial megalomania. The outbreak of the Vietnam war took place 50 years ago, ignited by US “national interests.” The collapse of the internally rotten “Iron Curtain” communist dictatorship occurred 25 years ago after decades of suppression.
On Armistice Day, 1918 my then 23-year-old father arrived at Camp Grant to join his two older brothers in the army, but was sen home the same day. My own closest experiences with the US military were my selective service deferment at age 18 and a visit to West Point as a guidance counselor. In travels through France from our home in Germany, Judith and I have visited WWI memorials as well as WWII Omaha and Utah beach battle sites recalled this past Friday.
The causes of war are many while the conditions and atmosphere of peace are relatively rare. When and where in history has there ever been an outbreak of peace? A list of US government divisions does not include a department of peace. Two week ago we celebrated Memorial Day. To remember and honor those who suffered and gave their lives is not enough repayment for their ultimate sacrifice and their having suffered horrible wounds. In four weeks we'll recall Independence Day, the prelude to seven years of revolutionary war.
The George Foster insert in out parish bulletin two weeks ago described in detail the ugliness of war with no redeeming aspects. Phyllis Zagano, professor at Hofstra University, wrote: “No culture seems to honor peace...no culture seems to really want peace.” She refers to the 2700-year-old Greek drama wherein the women of Greece spoke the ultimatum to their men: No peace, no sex!” She says it worked. Peace was established.
Scripture research confirms the preparations for, and persistence of almost constant war in the Hebrew Testament. The literature of history is heavy with war, its destruction, its rape and other crimes of personal violence, but it is light on peace. The South African Peace & Justice commission is a rarity in modern times. Euphemisms such as cessation of hostilities, laying down arms, signing a truce agreement, vested interests, etc. can no way point to peace. The conditions for peace are rare: respect for differences of ethnicity and religion, social equality, economic justice, etc. Indeed, when and where has there been an outbreak of peace?
In today's first reading, people of many different nations are told how to make efforts to promote a peaceful understanding and acceptance of those from other cultures and outlooks. In the second
reading, peace is achievable when we overcome differences by seeking what is common to us all despite national and linguistic differences. Jesus' message in today's Gospel is unmistakable: peace and forgiveness across the board – not just personal but territorial and national The listing of different tongues is a euphemism for the whole “known” world of the time 2,000 years ago. The Spirit's gifts arrive at Pentecost: wisdom (aha, I see!), understanding (I gotcha!), counsel (that's the way to go!), fortitude (hang in there!), knowledge (now you've got it!), piety (if YOU say so!), fear of the Lord (...or else!). Put them all together and we have a formula for a Spirit-driven peace. May peace be with all of us! AMEN!