A study of the history of war offers little encouragement to a world that is hungry for peace. In ancient times wars were fought on a small scale between village and village. Then it became tribe against tribe and province against province. Later the combatants were nations, then coalitions of nations. Until today it seems that virtually one half of the world is lined up against the other half.
A similar development can be traced in the weapons that are used to wage war. At first people fought each other with clubs and rocks, then with spears and bows and arrows, then with rifles and handguns. These were followed by cannons. Then came the discovery of bombs, which were dropped from airplanes. Now today we have dirt bombs, biological weapons and nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them with deadly accuracy by suicide bombers or on targets hundreds of miles away.
Against this gloomy background, I think you would agree that most of the world today is sick and tired of conflict, violence and bloodshed. We all envision a world one-day devoid of strife and hatred where all people will live peacefully together.
Yet there are those who contend that war is inevitable. They might remember the statement of Jesus about “wars and rumors of wars,” and look upon it as a prophecy of war’s inevitability. They remind us that there have always been wars, and they insist that wars will always be, as long as the world endures. And the present conditions in the Middle East seem to give substance to their argument. Nevertheless, there are those among us who, like the ancient prophet Isaiah, hold on to a vision of peace. We keep on believing that the day can come when all human beings will live together as brothers and sisters.
But it should be noted, however, that God’s vision of peace that He has shared with us through the prophets, and then finally through Jesus, is conditional. It does not float in the air like a pipe dream, but is anchored on all sides to our Catholic, ethical and moral principles.
A world at peace will never be realized merely by hoping and wishing. There are conditions that must be met. There is a price that must be paid. The obstacles that block the path to peace are deeply rooted and will not easily be removed.
In back of violence and hatred are selfish interests that must be sacrificed if peace is to come. So long as two children cling to the same toy, each demanding his or her own way, there can never be peace between them. There must be some giving in and some letting go. So it is in the world of adults, and so it is in the world of nations.
At this point, someone might be thinking: What has this got to do with me? I wield little or no power. How can I have any influence on the issue of war and peace?
Justice, fairness, truth, righteousness, understanding and love are the things that go into the making of peace. But there is a personal responsibility involved – each of us must clean up his or her life.
There comes to mind one line from a familiar song. It says, “Let there be peace on earth; and let it begin with me.” It is a prayer that we all need to remember and to pray. It is a standard against which we can measure our lives. We are not serious about peace on earth unless we are willing for it to begin in us.
What about you? How fair are you in your daily dealings with those around you? Is your life a source of peace or of war? Those are not idle questions. If we ever have a world at peace, it will be built by men and women of good will – by you and me.