In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48), Jesus utters a seemingly simple greeting upon appearing to his disciples after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” It is the same salutation we offer to others sitting around us at mass each week for the kiss of peace. Saying “peace be with you” has become such a habit for many of us that we may have stopped thinking about what Jesus has wished for us and what we wish for others. Peace.
My guess is that many of us consider ourselves to be peaceful people and to have peace in our lives. I have never had to suffer through war waged on the soil of my country. I have never used physical violence against anyone or had it used against me. I even feel guilty if I accidentally hit a squirrel while driving, and I always try to take bugs trapped inside my home outdoors instead of squishing the life out of them. Yet the type of peace I allude to here is what some have called “negative peace,” that is, peace that is simply the absence of violence. Of course, negative peace is much better than violence or oppression and as such is an important baseline measurement of peace. But I believe when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he is calling us to live into a peace that goes beyond this baseline understanding, a type of peace that can be called positive peace.
Positive peace is a lot more difficult to identify and achieve than negative peace. In fact, given the reality of sin in the world, positive peace is more of a journey than as a destination. Positive peace encompasses positive content and is something we can strive for across the full range of relationships in which we find ourselves: relationship to self; relationship to other individuals; relationships within groups of people, communities, societies; and relationships with the planet on which we live and the other living things that also call this planet home. What might positive peace entail in each of these relationships?
Relationship to self: Peace in relationship to the self involves being kind to yourself; not being overly critical of yourself when you make mistakes; and accepting and respecting who you are, your body, your personality, your spirit. Living in peace with yourself means respecting and treating your body as a temple of God–eating well, exercising, and resting. It involves seeking help for physical, emotional, intellectual, or any other kind of problem you may be struggling with.
Relationship to other individuals: Peace in relationship to others involves actively seeking ways to be kind to others, including offering help if you notice someone needs it. It involves accepting and respecting other people for who they are. It also means working to restore relationships when relationships are challenged by disagreements or misunderstandings.
Relationship to society: Peace in the larger society involves working to help create social systems that serve the needs of everyone, especially the needs of the poor and oppressed. As the bumper sticker says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” (Before this was a bumper sticker, it was the title of Pope Paul VI’s address on Peace Day in 1972.) It also means finding constructive ways to deal with conflicts—be they religious, political, etc. In other words, peace does not mean there is never any conflict. It means that “people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively—with respectful attention to the legitimate needs and interest of all concerned.” (Quotation from Irenees.net, a website of resources for peace)
Relationship with Earth: This relationship is especially appropriate to reflect on this Earth Day 2012. Human beings have not always treated the earth and the other living things on this planet with the respect due them as part of God’s good creation. Restoring peace in our relationship to the Earth means finding little things we can do every day to lessen our carbon footprint—walk, bike and carpool more; go meatless one or more day a week; and reduce purchasing and purchase products with as little waste in packaging as possible. It also means getting involved in larger projects—like the high school students in this week’s Spirit who started a recycling program at their high school—and advocating for governmental policies that protect the environment.