January 01, 2006

In Truth, Peace

In the previous post, Susan posted an excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI's message for World Peace Day, which is titled: In Truth, Peace. She applied the Holy Father's message to individual circumstances, asking each reader to determine where he or she is called to be a peacemaker. I've decided to take a slightly different and hopefully complementary approach by looking at the pope's message and applying it to our peacemaking responsibilities as a nation.

I remember at the beginning of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate, there was some discussion of what message he intended to convey by choosing the name Benedict. Most agreed that he took the name in honor of St. Benedict of Nursia, the great father of Western monasticism and the great evangelist of Western Europe. I don't deny that he was thinking of that Benedict when he chose his papal name, but I think many were too quick to dismiss the connection between his choice of the name Benedict and his most immediate namesake: Pope Benedict XV. Pope Benedict XV led the Church as its pope during the turbulent years of World War I, and he is known for his unceasing plea for peace during that time period. In his first message for World Peace Day, Pope Benedict XVI has proven that he is continuing in the path of Pope Benedict XV just as he is continuing in the path of St. Benedict of Nursia:

. . . I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace. The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the Chair of St. Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke both the Patron Saint of Europe, who inspired a civilization of peace on the whole continent, and Pope Benedict XV, who condemned the First World War as a "useless slaughter" and worked for a universal acknowledgment of the lofty demands of peace (In Truth, Peace, #2).

The primary focus of Pope Benedict XVI's message, which has been obscured by secular media reports, is the fundamental relationship between truth and peace. Without respect for the truth, the Holy Father asserts, there can be no authentic peace; for peace is rooted in the truth, and the disruption of peace is brought about by falsehood. The pope rightly points to the first falsehood, the first disruption of peace, when the father of lies misled our first parents, a falsehood which resulted in their turning against one another and accusing each other before God (cf. Ibid., #5; Gen. 3:1-5,11-13). Since that time, falsehood has consistently led to brother turning against brother in murder and war (cf. Gen. 4:3-12). For Pope Benedict XVI, peace can only be achieved by repentance, a turning away from falsehood and toward truth. But for the Holy Father and for the entire Catholic Church, truth is not just a philosophical or theological concept, it is a concrete reality -- a divine way for us, brought to light by Jesus Christ. Peace, therefore, is rooted in Christ our Truth (cf. Ibid., #6).

The primary implication for our nation, which has been ignored by much of the media, is that we will never truly be a peacemaking nation until we turn away from secularism and relativism and embrace the divine order, the way of truth which leads to peace. Before we can build peace in the world, we must first build up its foundation in our own nation, our own culture, and its foundation is objective truth rooted in divine revelation. This implies that our collective understanding of religious freedom and civil liberty is intrinsically related to our capacity for peacemaking.

We will be more effective peacemakers when we once again embrace an understanding of religious freedom which frees us to worship Nature's God rather than working to suppress appeals to divine truth in the public square. We will be more effective peacemakers when we again realize that our civil rights must be rooted in natural law and the order of objective truth, rather than a relativistic understanding of "free choice" which does not provide true freedom at all. Fundamentally, we will be more effective peacemakers only when we accept the "self-evident" truth "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" (The Declaration of Independence, para. 2). We will be more effective peacemakers only when we accept the truth that the first right is the right to life, in which all other rights find their basis and apart from which no other rights exist. This respect for the right to life must form every aspect of our public policy: from abortion to capital punishment, from euthanasia to immigration, from embryonic stem cell research to war and weapons proliferation, and beyond.

In our own time, Pope Benedict XVI provides concrete examples of respect for the truth which can lead our nation to become an example of peacemaking for the world.

He exhorts us "to be seriously concerned about lies in our own time, lies which are the framework for menacing scenarios of death in many parts of the world" (In Truth, Peace, #5). Justice demands, in response, that we seek to discover once and for all whether or not the war that the will of our President and the bipartisan consent of our Congress led us into was just or unjust, and whether or not we were led into this war by half-truths or outright lies. Together with the scourge of abortion, which claims millions of innocent lives each year, the justice of this war and the credibility of the factors which led us into it remain the most morally imperative questions of our day. They cannot be ignored.

The Holy Father also declares:

International humanitarian law ought to be considered as one of the finest and most effective expressions of the intrinsic demands of the truth of peace. Precisely for this reason, respect for that law must be considered binding on all peoples. Its value must be appreciated and its correct application ensured; it must also be brought up to date by precise norms applicable to the changing scenarios of today's armed conflicts and the use of ever newer and more sophisticated weapons" (Ibid., #7).

In response, we must commit to the protection of all prisoners, be they prisoners of war or enemy combatants, in law and in practice -- and according to international law as established by the Geneva Conventions. We must affirm the truth that we cannot have a society and culture committed to respect for the dignity of all human life while the torture of prisoners remains an option for our government to explore as it does or does not see fit. This issue, too, must be considered non-negotiable at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances.

Speaking to the issue of terrorism, Pope Benedict XVI teaches:

Not only nihilism, but also religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly, while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely to accept, one's own convictions about the truth. As he wrote: "To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offense against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offense against God in whose image he is made" (Ibid., #9).

Although here the pope is referring to terrorism, we must also ask ourselves when we have failed to propose and instead have imposed through violent means. Have we not also imposed our own democratic convictions upon others, expecting them to accept a weak democracy imposed by force, a false peace imposed by violence? In a land where democracy has never existed, we have arrogantly sought to impose our own democratic values, sophisticated values which took us centuries to develop and which, in fact, we are still in the process of developing. In a land where peace has never reigned, we have arrogantly assumed that we could be the heralds of a Pax Americana, but instead we have only fed an insurgency built to oppose what it sees as an imperialistic power. In our zeal to expand our own power, we have instead exposed the hideous black hole of our human weakness which only expands with each American, Coalition, and Iraqi life that is lost.

As this World Day of Peace comes to a close, let us consecrate the rest of the year, the rest of our lives, to truth and the peace that can be found only in and through it. Having found our own human weakness exposed in so many crude and embarrassing ways, let us rely upon the strength of the Lord of Truth, the Prince of Peace, that he will heal the rifts we have made amongst each other by our acceptance of falsehood, and lead us into the peace that comes after accepting all truth.