Recollection Material for July 2021: AN OPTION FOR PEACE
Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter “Fratelli tutti”, notes that after the great wars of the last century, it would seem that in the new millennium humanity is heading towards a new era of solidarity, justice and peace. The first steps towards the formation of the European Union seemed to be the prelude to this new stage in the history of humanity, as well as various movements of collaboration and peace in other parts of the planet (FT 10). However, the reality of this new millennium has highlighted the urgency of working for peace, since “history is showing signs of turning back. In various countries, the idea of the unity of the people and of the nation, penetrated by various ideologies, is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of social sense, masked by a supposed defense of national interests.” Peace is the great gift of the Risen Christ and is one of the most reliable signs of God’s presence. On the contrary, war and discord are a clear sign of sin and of alienation from God, who is the source of peace. For all these reasons we will pause this month to meditate on the importance of dialogue within and outside the community for the attainment of peace.
Return to yourself
Let us now prepare our hearts for a time of encounter with the Lord. We need times of serenity and peace, as if they were oases in which our heart can once again beat to the rhythm of God and calmly and peacefully listen to his word. And since we are going to talk about peace, we should ask God to calm our hearts.
With your fire, yes; with your holy fire we are enflamed and we walk, because we walk upwards, towards the peace of Jerusalem. Lord God, give us peace, since you have given us all things; the peace of rest, the peace of the Sabbath, the peace of no sunset. (conf. 13:10, 50).
Your voice is my joy
With a heart well disposed, with serenity, I read without haste the following words of Psalm 122 (121), tasting them and letting myself be impacted by them:
What joy when they said to me:
Let us go to the House of Yahweh!
2 At last our feet tread your threshold, O Jerusalem!
3 Jerusalem, a city built all in perfect harmony,
4 where the tribes go up, the tribes of Yahweh, according to the custom of Israel, to give thanks to the name of Yahweh.
5 There are the thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
6 Call peace upon Jerusalem, let those who love you live in peace,
7 Let there be quiet within your walls, let your palaces be at peace.
8 For the sake of my brothers and friends I want to say: Peace be with you!
9 For the house of the LORD, our God, I will ask all good for you.
The firmament of the Scriptures
This psalm belongs to the genre of the psalms of ascension, that is, to those that were recited on pilgrimage to the holy city or going up to the Temple (cf. Ex 23:14-17; 34:22-24. Cf. Mt 21:1-11 et passim).
The division of the psalm is tripartite: introduction (1b-2), body (3-7) and conclusion (8-9). The introduction is made up of two verses. In the first, the command to visit the holy city is evoked (v.1, cf. Ex 3:17), which motivates joy. In the second verse the psalmist expresses that this joy is real: already our feet are treading on your threshold… (v. 2). The remaining verses will be a description of the reason for this joy.
The body (vv. 3-7) is a synthesis of the history of Jerusalem. For some authors, this psalm is written from the horizon of nostalgia for the ancient city, the harmonious city where the Temple (the house of God, the holy place) and the palace of David (the center of government of the kingdom) are located. The tribes of the Lord and the claim to the customs of Israel echo both the religious demand and the personal and communal promise to celebrate the Lord. Jesus himself will do so, as a child and until the end of his life, as a personal and religious commitment to his history and his faith. The final part is a petition: invoke peace on Jerusalem and on those who are in it; petition for peace and prosperity on those who love it. It is appealed that the present and the future of the city be one of
The conclusion (8-9) is a twofold plea. The psalmist expresses wishes for peace and goodness for the pilgrims who visit the city of Jerusalem and harbor peace in their hearts. A universal desire for communion with men of good will who love God is also expressed (cf. Lk 2:14).
Traditionally, Jerusalem is translated as city of peace, although this is not entirely correct. The present name Jerusalem is an adaptation of the pre-Israelitic name Urusalim, which refers to the root of the verb to have wellbeing, from which the sense of peace is derived. SLM means to have wellbeing in all senses: economic, moral and in good relationship with God and with others. Here is the sense and meaning of peace: to be well.
The desire for SLM goes beyond the walls of the holy city to become an invocation on all the people: my brothers and companions. The feeling of joy experienced by the pilgrim becomes a desire for well-being, prosperity, tranquility, harmony and goodness for all. The holy city is not venerated for its own sake, but for the sake of the one who dwells in it, for there is the house of Yahweh. It is God, ultimately, the author of peace; as Psalm 23 says, He is the shepherd, the one who makes me lack nothing, the one who gives welfare. Therefore, every request for wellbeing is addressed to him, who listens to all those who desire peace and seek it with all their heart (cf. Lk 3:14).
Peace is one of the most important realities for St. Augustine. As bishop, he lived in a Church divided by the painful and bitter Donatist schism. This schism was not only a religious or ecclesial question, but also a reality with a strong political, social, economic and family impact. The Donatists also had a violent group of clashes, the Circumcellions, who continually disturbed order and social peace, so that they lived practically in a veiled civil war. For this reason, St. Augustine gives great importance to three elements that are always united: charity, unity and peace. For him, these are three signs of the presence of God. This is what he points out in the prologue to his commentary on the first letter of St. John, written a few years before the famous conference of Carthage (411), which attempted to put an end to the Donatist schism:
The final result will be that we all find joy in the one charity. But where charity is, there is peace, and where humility is, there is charity. (ep. Io. tr. Prol.)
For St. Augustine, peace has a personal dimension. It is necessary that the person lives in peace with himself. The first “Sabbath” of peace is within. No one who lives in disagreement with God and with those around him will be able to live this first dimension of peace (en Ps. 91, 2).
And it also has a communitarian, family and social dimension of the group that lives with greater closeness. In his famous book XIX of the City of God, where we find his best reflection on peace, our Father emphasizes how those who share the same space and family affinity, consanguineous or religious, are called to live in greater peace. And he makes it clear that when peace disappears within this primary nucleus, more bitter divisions follow:
Who are usually, or at least should be more friendly to one another than those who live together in the same house? And yet, who is safe there when there are often such contraries, all the more bitter because the peace that was believed to be true, but which was simulated with refined cunning, was all the sweeter? (civ. 19, 5).
The remedy to banish division or quarrels from the community or the primary human nucleus is love. Therefore, St. Augustine invites us to live in true love, the gift of God from which peace arises:
Let us therefore love our God, let us love one another in the unity of God himself, let us have peace in him and love among ourselves, so that, when Christ himself, our Lord, comes, we may say, “Lord, with your help we have done what you commanded us; in your mercy give us what you promised us” (s. 154A, 6).
And, going to the concrete, in order to live peace in the community, the Saint invites us not to make rash judgments, to always think well of our brothers and sisters, that is, to have works of love in the community:
What does peace do? Of the uncertain it does not judge, of the unknown it does not affirm; it is more inclined to judge well of man than to suspect evil of him. It does not grieve to err when it thinks good of the bad, for it knows that it is pernicious to feel evil of the good (en Ps. 147, 16).
And he gives another very brief and concrete piece of advice: eliminate quarrels, avoid useless polemics and discord, and set ourselves to pray rather than to disturb the peace of the community:
Are you a lover of peace? Find yourself at ease with it in your heart. “And what shall I do?” You have something to do. Do away with quarrels and devote yourself to prayer (s. 357:4).
The gold of Egypt
The artistic work that serves us on this occasion for reflection is the painting by Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto 1452-1513), “La Madonna della Pace”, preserved in the Pinacoteca di San Severino Marche. The work was painted around 1488, and was commissioned by Liberato Bartelli, who had been protonotary and canon of St. Peter, as well as household secretary to Pope Innocent VIII. The picture was painted to celebrate his appointment as prior of the cathedral of San Severino Marche. Liberato Bartelli knew Pinturicchio for his frescoes decorating the Bufalini chapel in the Roman church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. In the painting one can see the Virgin Mary and the child standing on a rich cushion placed on the Virgin’s knees. With one hand, the child blesses the donor, Liberato Bartelli, and in the other he carries a crystal ball with a cross on top, to represent Christ’s power and dominion over the universe. Unlike other Infant Jesuses, this one is richly dressed in a white robe with striking gold details, and with a pallium of blue and gold, as if he were an ancient Roman. On either side of the Virgin and Child are angels. One of them, located to our left, looks straight ahead to the viewer, as if inviting with his eyes to serenity and peace. The Virgin, richly dressed and with humble and discreet attitude, invites with her eyes to look at her son, Christ, just as the eyes of the donor himself, Liberato Bartelli, rise pious and trusting towards Christ. The painting would invite us to put Christ at the center of our lives in order to have peace; for when Christ is at the center of a person’s life, he or she can live in peace, leaving aside, as the painting presents, all other elements: the rich landscape seen
in the background.
From words to action
- Jesus Christ is the King of peace. The Word of God is a source of peace for our hearts. Does my daily dialogue with God pacify my heart, so that my dialogue is sustained by the peace that the Lord gives me?
- In the dialogue with the world and culture, it is important to listen and speak with serenity and calmness in the search for truth and peace. Do I have my heart at peace when I dialogue with non-believers or with people who have a different way of thinking from mine? When I dialogue, do I seek peace?
- St. Augustine says that the peaceful man judges others well. Do I avoid rash judgments when I dialogue with my
brothers in community? Am I able to be silent and listen when I do not know a matter? Do I know how to dialogue without getting into altercations or sterile arguments?
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (Hymn)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
where there is hatred, may I sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
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;
forgiving when we are forgiven;
and dying when we are born to eternal life. Amen.