by Deacon Tom Picciano
sun contributing writer
JOHNSON CITY— Several dozen people attended a prayer service at St. James on March 18, to mark the seventh anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. It’s become an annual service put on by members of the Peace and Justice group at the parish.
The opening prayer called on God as the source of life and peace who turns “our minds to thoughts of peace. Hear our prayer in this time of war.” Later, the prayer asked God to give “understanding that puts an end to strife; mercy that quenches hatred and forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.” It’s a theme that flowed into the reflection by Sister Rose Margaret Noonan, CSJ.
Jesus’ message of peace, Sister Rose Margaret said, is different than the world belief.
“The world says peace will be achieved when we get revenge, when we do to others what they’ve done to us. When we even the score. Will the score ever be evened? In this world where hate begets hate…violence begets violence…it goes on a never-ending cycle of war.”
She noted that Jesus’ teaching was unique. “Forgive your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Pray for those who persecute you. I think the kind of peace that Jesus offers us is three-fold. It’s peace in our own hearts. Peace in our relationships with others and peace in our relationship with God.”
Sister Rose Margaret said that in a world filled with “endless wars, mass and individual killings, torture and abuse” that it’s not enough to maintain Jesus’ teachings of peace. She challenged those in attendance to watch that the “spirit of violence” doesn’t take hold, especially in dealing with others who have opposing views. She questioned whether words or tone of voice can take on a bit of violence.
“Do we listen to what they are saying and try to find some basis for understanding? Or do we self-righteously condemn everything they say? Do you sometimes wonder why so many good Christian people seem to immediately turn us off when we start to speak about peace and justice?” she asked.
Sister Rose Margaret said it’s possible those who speak for peace and justice may “come across as condemning anyone who isn’t called to respond the way we are called to respond.”
“We cannot and should not compromise our principles,” she said. “We must speak out against injustice wherever we see it in individuals, in government, in the church. But we must speak from a peaceful heart and with loving words.”
Sister Rose Margaret echoed Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor,“ because we are all one.
“No matter what their faith… their nationality… their race. Each person is of unique and sacred value in the eyes of God. Forgetting this is what causes war. Forgetting this is what causes hatred and revenge. Remembering this is the only way to cause the world to change. “
Each person, Sister Rose Margaret said, can bring light and peace into their own hearts, then into the world. That, she added, will allow people to reach out in love to bring guidance, courage and understanding to others.
“If each one of us will do that every word we say, every action we perform, will remain an indelible message in the hearts and minds of those we touch, both now and for years to come. And eventually this world will become what God intended it to be. One world… for many children of all religions, races and nationality will live together in peace, harmony and love.”
“The idea of beginning personally to be people of peace is obviously a message Sister Rose Margaret got across really well and it resonates with me,” said Bonnie Mando, a member of the St. James Peace and Justice Group. “The cost of the war is just way beyond my being able to understand. When we’re talking about works of charity and justice, the money that’s going to the war effort is being diverted from helping us to have a better society for all of us here.”
“I’m very sad too that we’re still in Iraq and we’re escalating in Afghanistan. I wish there were more we could do to change to stop that from happening.” said Ben Bristoll, of the Peace and Justice Group. “I guess we just have to keep in mind that Sister Rose Margaret’s message was very good about what we can do as individuals and to try and make our world better.”