As we witness the appalling images of death and destruction from Ukraine and many — including some national leaders — behave as if they’re impotent before the atrocities being committed, such a helpless attitude can never be the response of a Christian who lives the faith.
Christians have received from Jesus the vocation to be peacemakers, not peace-wishers or peace-dreamers. By our Baptism we have become children of God, and — as Jesus made clear in His declaration, “Blessed are the peacemakers” — true children of God are those who restore and build peace (Mt 5:9).
To be a disciple of the Prince of Peace (Is 9:5) means to be a peacemaker. During the Last Supper, Jesus gave and left us His peace (Jn 14:27) and backed up that gift by His first words to the Apostles after His Resurrection were “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). He sent His disciples town-to-town and even house-to-house to offer that gift of peace (Mt 10:12) and spoke regularly about the conditions — like fraternity, humility and forgiveness — that are necessary for lasting peace.
To be a faithful Christian is to be on the front line in the battle for peace. It means to live according to the terms of Christ’s definitive peace plan and to commit oneself to the arduous communal effort to guide peoples into the path of peace (Lk 1:79). It does not mean to adopt utopian fantasies that fail to consider the consequence of the existence of evil, chosen by leaders who attack and bomb rather than love their neighbors. It also does not mean to forget the essential responsibilities leaders have to protect their peoples from unjust attacks and to remedy the evil being suffered, including, when necessary, trying with just and proportionate means to defeat the aggressor and restore justice.
But since peace is both a Divine gift and the fruit of human effort, peacemaking involves two interconnected activities: imploring God for the gift of peace; and collaborating in the long and demanding battle to defeat evil by good.
It involves, first, prayer. In the face of war, prayer is not an escape. It’s not a placebo taken in substitution for real medicine that might address the cancer of conflict. It’s a recognition that only an intervention from on high can help untie seemingly unbreakable knots. It’s also a way by which our gaze can go beneath the surface of history and entrenched animosities to a source of peace even deeper than the legacy of sin.
To bring peace to the world, as St. John Paul II wrote in his 1992 Message for the World Day of Peace, there must be, “intense, humble, confident and persevering prayer.” That is because “prayer is par excellence the power needed to implore that peace and obtain it. It gives courage and support to all who love this good and desire to promote it” and shows, even in the seemingly direst of circumstances, that “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).
In terms of prayers Catholic peacemakers can offer, the foremost will always remain the Mass, by which we enter into Christ’s prayer from the Upper Room and Calvary in which He signed with blood the definitive peace treaty for the human race. In the Mass we turn to Him as the Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sins and beg, “Grant us peace.” We implore Him, “Lord Jesus Christ, Who said to Your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with Your will.” We extend to each other the peace of the Lord and, with God’s blessing, are dismissed in peace to announce the Gospel of the Lord and to glorify Him with our life.
Catholic tradition has similarly prized the Rosary as a prayer for peace, especially since the miraculous victory of the Christian fleet in the 1571 Battle of Lepanto seemingly because of the prayers of the Rosary in Rome led by Pope St. Pius V. This privileged prayer to the Queen of Peace has been efficaciously invoked in time of conflict and regularly proposed by the popes as a prayer for peace.
In his 2002 Exhortation on the Rosary, St. John Paul II said, “One cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace.” Through it we learn the “secret of peace,” grow in “hope that, even today, the difficult ‘battle’ for peace can be won,” and are inspired to make peace our “life’s project.”
The second thing peacemaking involves is action, which flows from prayer. Rather than “offering an escape from the problems of the world,” John Paul II insists that prayer “obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes.” Prayer reminds us that God is with us always. It emboldens us to tackle even the most intractable problems with patience, realism, perseverance and hope. It impels us to beg God to make us “instruments” of His peace and to bear witness, in every way at our disposal, to the “Gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15), cooperating with other believers and all people of good will in the immense work to bring it about.
So, in response to the situation in the Ukraine and the other conflicts plaguing our world, we are not powerless spectators. Rather, through prayer and the charity that flows from it, we are influential participants as peacemakers living up to our identity as children of God.
And so we pray and act with confidence, as disciples of the Risen Prince of Peace, Who has conquered crucifixion, snatched victory out of claws of death, and brought the greatest good from the greatest evil.