The student was running a bit late. I picked up her binder. As my eyes caught the sheet, I smiled. I remembered back to when I first started writing down quotes that interested me. At first glance, my student had an interesting blend of doodles and phrases. I started to apologize for accidently invading her personal space. She waved that off and pointed to one quote to share. It said, “Let the haters hate.” I looked into the bright, bubbly eyes of this teen-age girl. She giggled. I thought, “Good, I am pretty sure you have never really experienced hate first-hand. I hope it stays that way.”

As I walked away I thought about the meaning of those words. On one level the phrase is a recasting of Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Eleanor’s words encourage each of us to find then be the special person God created us to be. That is an important message for a teen-ager. 

Even so, I could not shake the negativity of the rephrasing. When did we as a society lower our expectations so much that we are willing to turn away from seeking change? Are we really so foolish as to assume that respect for the distinctive viewpoint of each and every speaker can happen in an environment where hatred is tolerated? St. Teresa said, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” 

Any parent or teacher knows the importance of expectations. Jesus challenged each of us to love our neighbor as our self. Jesus also entrusted us to bring that message to our world. In essence, we must seek to share God’s love even with those who think their only way to live is via hate. This isn’t a job for the faint of heart. It also isn’t a job for those who require an immediate change. It is a job for those courageous enough to awake each morning ready to begin again. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). The very imagery in Jesus’ words — children of God brings to mind the necessary characteristics: patience, love, and the ability to follow one’s heart. 

Have you ever looked deeply into the face of a peacemaker? Have you seen the radiant glow from a smiling Blessed Mother Teresa? That glow is the Holy Spirit always preparing one to be ready to face the upcoming challenge. From the Old Testament, “But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (Dan 12:3). 

An important secret is that being a peacemaker isn’t a job for someone else. The words of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi remind us we each are called to be peacemakers. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” 

Another important secret about being a peacemaker is that one does not have to look for any particularly large conflict or problem to resolve. All one needs is the desire to wish to heal the small difficulties that one can see. In her book, “The Places That Scare You,” Pema Chodron describes something she calls practice in compassion. Pema says, “Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.” We do this knowing God will guide our words and actions. 

I remember at the nursing home was a brain tumor patient. Part of the skull had been cut away to allow the tumor to grow. The first time I brought her the Eucharist, I couldn’t take my eyes off the massive deformity. The next week, I asked God to help me just look into her eyes and see the person He knew (and loved). As she took the Eucharist, I again caught myself glancing at the tumor. The next week I went back again. As I brought the Eucharist to her, her eyes held mine. She had a beautiful smile. I paused in the hall outside to thank God for answering my prayer. The following week, as I smiled and looked into her room, she was gone. I stood in the doorway and thanked God for not letting me fail that previous week. I don’t think she ever said a word to me. Yet, she guided me to finding a peacemaker within myself. 

My student asked me what I thought of her quote. I responded that walking away from haters was just the start. We spoke about peacemakers and how much our world desperately needs them. I hope I planted a seed. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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