It’s been a time of terror, disbelief, and pain, especially for those with direct connections to the conflict in Ukraine.
I keep hearing, “We need to pray for peace.”
I keep saying, “I’m praying for peace.”
I keep scrolling and reading, “Pray for peace in Ukraine.”
Peace. What does that even mean?
Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” — This Scripture passage feels different during times of war, doesn’t it? And it means something different when we witness or experience the reality of violence, when troops invade and children die, when friends sob for their loved ones, and when refugees flee, never to go home again. War forces us to grapple with what peace is, or at least the kind of peace our faith calls us to.
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Like so many, I’m glued to the news. I’ve cried, donated, and prayed: Seriously God? Another war! Another refugee crisis! What is wrong with humanity? Is there no way out of war except war? Why does prayer feel so useless? People just want to live in their homes! Is that too much to ask for?! Any time you’d like to intervene, we’re ready!
I don’t fully understand how we became this inhumane as a human species. I don’t know what needs to be done for this violence to end and never happen again anywhere in the world; I don’t know how to get people to safety, and I don’t have a global plan.
But I’m sure of one thing: peace is knowing in our core that God is with us, and even more than that, God suffers with those who are suffering. And then acting like it; asking ourselves, Do I believe God will meet us/them here amid fear, war, sacrifice, and death? And then standing, shaking, falling, or even collapsing in the answer our faith provides us with, Yes.
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This is a God who knows what it’s like to hurt, and not because God is Divine, but because God chose to be like us, fully human. This is a God who lived under Roman occupation. A God who knows what it feels like to be hunted down and killed. And when death was upon him, a God who was so plagued with anxiety that blood poured out his sweat glands. Then he chose to face it anyway.
Peace is not a cheap word. Peace is often talked about like it’s fluffy; kind of a new age motto for when someone honks at me in traffic, I just need to find my peace, we might say. But that’s not the kind of peace God calls us to.
Jesus frequently said, “Peace be with you.” And I don’t think he was talking about cheap peace, but a call to assuredness. That yes, even here — in grotesque violence — we have a God who continuously chooses to enter in. To be hurt when his children are hurt. To be affected by a world that is free to choose evil.
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Watching this most recent war has challenged my beliefs on peace, and it’s asked me if I really believe what I say about God who enters in as a fellow sufferer. It’s the kind of peace that beckons me to act. So how might we live out the peace God calls us to?
First, don’t look away. When war gets too gruesome, or the world gets too upsetting, or our internal seeking gets too uncomfortable, the temptation is to turn our heads and close our eyes. Turning away is not leading to peace, but denial. We can’t find peace while ignoring someone else’s pain. Peace says to keep looking; not necessarily watching news 24 hours a day, but staying in touch with the issues and those affected. Because when we live in God’s peace, we can be in the thick of it. Because as Catholics, when we see hurting, violence, pain, or oppression, we’re called to act.
Second, do whatever God is asking. For four days, I watched the news until I fell asleep. It felt like the only thing I could do to be in some speck of solidarity. Eventually I couldn’t take it. How can I just sit here? No. How dare I just sit here? The temptation is helplessness, and the solution is doing whatever God asks, moving in the direction God wants. Living peacefully is saying, “I will follow you Lord.” If God calls — Donate or Volunteer or Take in a family who are newly refugees — we do it. I raised my gaze, What do you want me to do? The answer flashed, Pray. Together. So I invited those at my workplace with connections to the conflict to take part in a prayer service. Living peacefully is saying, “I will follow you Lord.”
Third, touch the affliction or those afflicted. Peace isn’t always a call to stillness, but to motion. I as an individual can’t protect Ukraine. I don’t have the language or skillset to hop on a flight to Poland, cross the border and actually be helpful there. But what I could do is reach out to those hurting around me. Those with family and roots in Ukraine. Those who are watching an army, missiles, rockets and bombs destroy their country, their favorite coffee shops. I could help create a space where those hurting could be together and united in prayer, crying out to God for peace.
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This peace doesn’t always feel good or enough. As I sat in a prayer service with coworkers and students deeply affected by the conflict, my bones soaked in the reality that this prayer service was nowhere near fixing their pain. It wasn’t a cease-fire agreement or the successful conclusion of peace talks, and I wondered if it was doing anything at all. Ultimately, this humble prayer service was never about fixing, but connecting. It was a way to be together with our God, rest in God’s peace, and find ways forward. Now, some of us who met because of the prayer service are working together to get donations to a local Ukrainian center. For me, peace didn’t come until I was connected with those hurting. Until I got involved and decided, “You know what, I’m in this with you.” But that’s the power of God’s peace juxtaposed to cheap peace.
I wish the words of St. Oscar Romero weren’t still this relevant, but they continue to ring true: “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” So as we pray for peace and cry out, let’s remember the kind of peace we are working towards, an immediate end to violence, and for the assuredness of Christ amidst it.