Around this time last year we went to see the musical “All Is Calm.” It is a true story, set in 1914, in the trenches of World War I along the front between Germany and France. On Christmas Eve an impromptu truce was declared, and the soldiers came out of the trenches to share songs, food, drink and even football. The truce spontaneously sprang up in several different places. In some cases it lasted a few hours and in others, a couple days.
This event did not occur in subsequent years of the war because the generals took steps to prevent it. They realized that the soldiers were reluctant to kill the people with whom they had enjoyed Christmas Eve. They had stopped thinking of each other as “the enemy” and were thinking more about their shared humanity.
When we read or watch the news today, we see war every day. We are shocked and horrified by images of brutality. The conflicts raging between Israel and Hamas (where at the moment I write this we are praying for an extension of a truce), and between Ukraine and Russia do not only impact the combatants, but also the ordinary people who happen to live in the path of war. Fighting is not limited to a few men lined up in trenches trying to kill each other. Residential buildings, hospitals, and schools are being shattered by bombs. In fact, 87% of the people killed by war are not combatants. (And, thinking of combatants, how many of them have freely chosen to fight?) Those who survive have lost the infrastructure necessary for life. People are cold, hungry, and terrified. They are grieving the loss of their children.
God’s dream is for peace. God gives life and breath to everyone, regardless of where they live. We are all part of one human family. Peace is more than the absence of conflict. True peace must be based on justice. Justice is NOT about “getting even.” Perhaps it is human nature or perhaps it is our culture that wants to even the score. But “getting even” is impossible. “Getting even” only causes more suffering, more grief, more death, and more people who have been deprived of the life they deserve and or the people they love. “Getting even” only causes more injustice.
Justice in Catholic Social Doctrine means that everyone has access to the means so that they can live and thrive.
Our world has become increasingly interdependent. We are all, even those of us far removed from the fighting, impacted by the many conflicts raging on our planet. At the same time, there are many systemic challenges before us that are not being fully addressed, and cannot be fully addressed until we, the people and nations of the earth decide to work together.
God’s dream is for us to beat our swords into plowshares. God’s dream is for us to abandon the idea of war and work together for the common good of all. Let us all pray for peace and let us all also work for peace.
“Why is there a war?… Because I and my neighbor and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war and all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live.” -- An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941–1943, trans. Arno Pomerans (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984)
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tucson, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.