VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Advent sermon delivered Friday by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, in the presence of Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia in preparation for Christmas.
Preaching in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, Father Cantalamessa continued a series of meditations on the beatitudes.
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“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God”
1. The Holy Father’s Message for the world day of peace
The beatitudes are not arranged according to a logical order. Except for the first one, which sets the tone for all the others, each one can be considered separately without its meaning being in the least compromised.
The Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace has made me decide to dedicate our meeting today to the beatitude about the peacemakers and to postpone for another time my reflections on the third beatitude, the one about the meek. The message of peace, directed to the whole world, must first of all be accepted, meditated on, and bear fruit here among us, at the center of the Church.
This year message is for peace in all areas, from the more personal ambit to the more vast ones of politics, economy, ecology, and international organizations. These are different fields, but they are united by the fact that all have the human person as their primary object, as the title of the message indicates “The Human Person: Heart of Peace.”
There is a fundamental affirmation in the message that is the interpretive key of the whole. The Holy Father says: “Peace is both gift and task. If it is true that peace between individuals and peoples — the ability to live together and to build relationships of justice and solidarity — calls for unfailing commitment on our part, it is also true, and indeed more so, that peace is a gift from God.
“Peace is an aspect of God’s activity, made manifest both in the creation of an orderly and harmonious universe and also in the redemption of humanity that needs to be rescued from the disorder of sin. Creation and Redemption thus provide a key that helps us begin to understand the meaning of our life on earth.”
These words help us to understand the beatitude of the peacemakers and this beatitude, in turn, throws light on these words of the Pope’s message. The nearness of Christmas sets a particular tone, a liturgical one, to our meditation. On Christmas night we will hear the words of the angelic hymn: “Peace on earth to men loved by the Lord.” The meaning of these words is not “may there be peace”, but rather “there is peace”; it’s a news not just a wish. “The birth of the Lord,” St. Gregory the Great said, “is the birth of peace”: Natalis Domini natalis est pacis.
2. Who are the peacemakers?
The seventh beatitude says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Along with the beatitude about the merciful, this one does not speak so much about how we must “be” (poor, afflicted, meek, pure of heart) but about what we must “do.” The Greek term “eirenopoioi” means those who work for peace, who “make peace.” Not so much, however, in the sense of being reconciled with our enemies as in the sense of helping enemies to be reconciled with each other. “What we are dealing with here are people who so love peace that they have no fear of compromising their own personal peace by intervening in conflicts to help those who are divided to find peace.”
Peacemakers are not synonymous, then, with the peaceful or pacific, that is, tranquil, calm persons who avoid contrariety as much as possible (they are proclaimed blessed by another beatitude, that of the meek); neither are peacemakers synonymous with pacifists, if by pacifists we mean those who are against war (with great frequency, against one of the two sides in a war!) but who do nothing to reconcile the combatants. The most just term is pacifier.
In New Testament times the rulers were called the peacemakers, above all the Roman Emperor. Augustus Caesar put world peace as his top accomplishment, which he achieved through military victory (parta victoriis pax). He built the famous Ara pacis, the Altar of Peace, in Rome as a testament of his legacy.
Some have understood the Gospel beatitude to be intentionally opposed to this assumption and to have pointed to the true peacemakers and the true way in which peace is promoted: through victory, yes, but victory over themselves, not over their enemies, not by destroying the enemy, but by destroying enmity, as Jesus did on the cross (Ephesians 2:16).
Today, however, the prevalent view is that this beatitude must be read according to the Bible and the Jewish sources in which helping people in discord to reconcile and live in peace is seen as one of the principal works of mercy. On Christ’s lips the beatitude of the peacemakers is derived from the new commandment of fraternal love, it is a way in which love of neighbor expresses itself.
In this sense we would say that this is the beatitude par excellence of the Church of Rome and of her bishop. One of the more precious services that the papacy has rendered to Christianity has always been to promote peace among the various churches, and, in certain eras, also among the Christian kings and rulers. The first apostolic letter of a Pope, that of St. Clement I, written around the year 96, (perhaps even before the fourth Gospel) had the purpose of returning peace to the Church of Corinth which was divided by discord. It is a service that cannot be rendered without some sort of real juridical authority. If we want to see the value of this service we just need to look at those situations where it is absent.
The history of the Church is full of episodes in which local churches, bishops or abbots, arguing among themselves or with their flocks, have turned to the pope as an arbiter of peace. I am certain that even today this is one of the more frequent services, even if little known, of the pope to the universal Church. Equally the Vatican diplomacy and the apostolic nuncios find their justification in being instruments at the service of peace.
3. Peace as a gift
But God himself, and not man, is the true and supreme “peacemaker.” It is for this reason that those who work for peace are called “sons of God.” They resemble God, imitate him, they do what he does. The Pope’s message says that peace is characteristic of the divine action in the creation and redemption, that is in God’s action as well as in Christ’s.
Scripture speaks of the “peace of God” (Philippians 4:7) and more often of the “God of peace” (Romans 15:32). Here peace does not mean what God does or gives, but also what God is. Peace is what reigns in God. Almost all the religions that flourished around the Bible know divine worlds marked by internal warfare. Babylonian and Greek myths about the world’s coming into being speak of divinities at war with each other and tearing each other to pieces. In heretical Gnostic sects in Christianity there is no unity and peace between the celestial Aeons, and the material world is supposed to be the fruit of an accident and a disharmony in the higher world.
Against this religious background we can better grasp the novelty and the absolute otherness of the doctrine of the Trinity as perfect unity of love in the plurality of persons. In one of her hymns, the Church calls the Trinity an “ocean of peace,” and this is not only a bit of poetry. The thing that is most striking when we contemplate Rublev’s icon of the Trinity is the sense of superhuman peace that emanates from it. The painter has succeeded in translating into an image the motto of St. Serge of , for whose monastery the icon was painted: “Contemplating the Most Holy Trinity, overcome the hateful disharmony of this world.”
The one who has best celebrated this divine Peace that comes from beyond history, was Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Peace is for him one of the “names of God” just as “love” is. Even of Christ it is said that he “is” himself our peace (Ephesians 2:14-17). When he says, “My peace I give to you,” he transmits that which he is.
There is an inseparable link between peace gift from above and the Holy Spirit; it’s not without reason that both are represented symbolically with a dove. In the afternoon on Easter Jesus gave, in practically the same instant, to this disciples peace and the Holy Spirit: “Peace be with you!” … He blew over them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20: 21-22). Peace, says St. Paul, is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).
It is then understood what it means to be a peacemaker. It is not about inventing or creating peace but of transmitting it, letting in the peace of God and of Christ “that transcends all understanding.” “Grace and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). This is the peace that the Apostle passes on to the Christians of Rome.
We must not, nor can we be, the origin but only the channel of peace. The prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi expresses this perfectly: “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”
But what is the peace of which we speak? The definition of peace proposed by Augustine has become classic: “Peace is the tranquillity of order.” Taking this definition, St. Thomas says that in man there exist three types of order: order with oneself, with God, and with our neighbor, and, in consequence, there exist three forms of peace: interior peace, by which man is at peace with himself; the peace whereby man is at peace with God, submitting himself fully to God’s dispositions; and the peace relative to one’s neighbor, by which we live in peace with all men.”
In the Bible, however, shalom, peace, says more than simply tranquillity of order. It also means well-being, repose, security, success, glory. Indeed, sometimes it means the totality of the messianic goods and is synonymous with salvation and goodness: “How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of good news on the mountains, he who announces peace, the messenger of goodness and of salvation” (Isaiah 52:7). The new covenant is called a “covenant of peace” (Ezekiel 37:26) and the Gospel is called the “Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), as if the word “peace” summarized the whole content of the covenant and the Gospel.
In the Old Testament, peace is often side by side with justice (Psalm 85:11, “Justice and peace shall kiss”) and in the New Testament it is side by side with grace. When Paul writes: “Justified by faith we are at peace with God” (Romans 5:1), it is clear that “at peace with God” has the same pregnant meaning as “in the grace of God.”
4. Peace as a task
The Pope’s message also says that besides being a gift, peace is also a task. It is of peace as a task the beatitudes speak to us in the first place.
The condition for being a channel of peace is being in union with its source, which is the will of God. “In his will is our peace,” says a soul in Dante’s purgatory. The secret to interior peace is total and ever renewed abandonment to the will of God. To maintain or find this peace of heart it helps to repeat the words of St. Teresa of Avila often to ourselves: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. Everything is passing, only God remains. Patience overcomes everything. Nothing is lacking to those who have God. God alone suffices.”
The apostolic preaching is rich with practical indications about what makes for and what is an obstacle to peace. One of the better known passages is that of the Letter of James: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace” (James 3:16-18).
From this very personal sphere must begin every effort to bring about peace. Peace is like the wake of a great ship that expands toward the infinite but begins as a point, and the point in this case is the heart of man. John Paul II’s message for the World Day of Peace in 1984 bore the title: “Peace is Born in a New Heart.”
But it is not on this personal sphere that I want to focus. Today a new, difficult, and urgent field of work is opening up to peacemakers: promoting peace between religions and with religion, that is, promoting peace between different religions and between the various religions and the secular, non-believing world. The Pope dedicates a paragraph of his message to this field.
The Pope writes: “As far as the free expression of personal faith is concerned, another disturbing symptom of lack of peace in the world is represented by the difficulties that both Christians and the followers of other religions frequently encounter in publicly and freely professing their religious convictions…
“There are regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone, while secular regimes often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs. In both instances, a fundamental human right is not being respected, with serious repercussions for peaceful coexistence. This can only promote a mentality and culture that is not conducive to peace.”
In the present moment we have an example of this cultural derision, or at least marginalization, of religious beliefs with the campaign in different European countries and cities against the religious symbols of Christmas. The reason often given for this is the desire to not offend persons of other religions among us, especially the Muslims. But it is a pretext, an excuse. In reality it is not the Muslims who do not want these symbols but a certain non-believing group in society. Muslims have nothing against the Christian celebration of Christmas, indeed, they honor it.
We have arrived at a rather absurd juncture: On the one hand, many Muslims celebrate the birth of Jesus and want a creche in their house and say that “those who do not believe in the miraculous birth of Jesus are not Muslim,” while others call themselves Christians who want to make Christmas a “winter festival” populated only by reindeer and teddy-bears.
In the Qur’an there is a Sura worth knowing (also as an aid in friendly dialogue between religions) that is dedicated to the birth of Jesus:
“The angels said, ‘O Mary! Allâh gives you good tidings through a word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary. He shall be worthy of regard in this world and in the hereafter… ‘And he will speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and shall be of the righteous.’ Mary said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a child when no man has yet touched me?’ He said, ‘In this way: Allâh creates what He will. When He decides something He simply says “be” and it is.'”
What that allows for a dialogue between religions — founded not only on the political reasons that we know well, but rather on a solid theological foundation — is that “we all have a single God,” as the Holy Father recalled when he visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It is with this same truth that St. Paul began his discourse at the Areopagus in Athens (cf. Acts 17:28).
Subjectively we have different ideas about God. For us Christians God is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” whom we do not know except “through him,” but objectively we know well that God can only be one. There is “only one God, Father of all, who is above all, who acts in all, and is present in all” (Ephesians 4:6).
Our faith in the Holy Spirit is also a theological foundation for dialogue. As the Spirit of the redemption, and Spirit of grace, he is the bond of peace among the baptized and of the different Christian confessions; as the Spirit of creation, Spiritus creator, he is the bond of peace among the believers of all religions and indeed among all men of good will. “Every truth, whoever pronounces it,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “comes from the Holy Spirit.”
The recent trip of the Holy Father to Turkey was on behalf of religious peace, which has shown itself to have produced rich fruit, as do all things that are born from the womb of the cross: peace between the Eastern and Western Christian Church, between Christianity and Islam. On the occasion of his silent prayer at the Blue Mosque the Holy Father said that “this visit will help us to find together the means and the roads to peace for the good of humanity.”
5. Peace without religion?
To tell the truth, the secularized West hopes for a different type of religious peace, one that would result from the disappearance of religion:
“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people, living for today. Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.
“Imagine all the people, living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
This song, written by one of the idols of modern rock music, with its suave melody, has become a kind of secular manifesto of pacifism. If that which is envisioned here were to be realized, the world would be poorer and more squalid than we can imagine. It would be a drab world in which all differences were abolished, where people are destined, not to peace, but to tear each other apart because — as René Girard has shown — where everyone wants the same thing, the “mimetic desire” will be unleashed and with it rivalry and war.
We believers must not allow ourselves to fall into resentment and polemics not even with the secularized world. Alongside dialogue and peace between religions, there is another aim of peacemakers: that of peace between believers and non-believers, between religious persons and the secular world, indifferent or hostile to religion.
It will be difficult this test: to give a reason, with firmness, for the hope in us, but to do so, as St. Peter says, “with sweetness and respect” (1 Peter 2:15-16). Respect does not mean in this case “human respect,” keeping Jesus hidden so as not to excite reactions. It is a respect of an interiority that is known only to God and that no one can violate for constrain to change. It is not putting Jesus into parentheses, but rather a showing forth of Jesus and the Gospel through our lives. We ask only that an equal respect be shown by others to Christians, something which so far has often been lacking.
We end returning with a thought on Christmas. An old response of Christmas liturgy of the hours said: “Hodie nobis de caelo pax vera descendit. Hodie per totum mundum melliflui facti sunt caeli” (Today true peace has come down from heaven for us. Today the heavens distill honey over the world).
How can we correspond to the infinite gift that our Father gave to the world, giving his only son? If there is one faux paux that we should not commit during Christmas, it is to recycle a gift and by mistake give it back to the person that gave it to us. But with God, we can’t help but do this continuously! The only act of thanksgiving possible is the Eucharist: Giving back Jesus, his son and now our brother, to the Father.
And what gift do we give to Jesus? A text of the oriental rite for Christmas says: “What can we offer to you, Christ, for having become man on Earth? Every creature gives you a sign of gratitude: The angels their songs, the heavens their star, the earth a cave, the desert a manger. But we offer to you a virgin mother!”
Holy Father, venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters: thanks for your kind attention and Merry Christmas!
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 Benedict XVI, “The Human Person: The Heart of Peace,” Message for the World Day of Peace, 2007, §3.
 St. Leo the Great, “Treatises,” 26 (CC 138, line 130).
 J. Dupont, “Le beatitudini,” III, p.1001.
 Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite, “The Divine Names,” XI, 1 s (PG 3, 948 s).
 St. Augustine, “The City of God,” XIX, 13 (CC 48, 679).
 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, “Commentary on the Gospel of John,” XIV, lect.VII, n.1962.
 Magdi Allan, “Noi musulmani diciamo sì al presepe,” Il Corriere della sera, Dec. 18, 2006, p. 18.
 Qur’an, Sura III.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Theologiae,” I-IIae q. 109, a. 1 ad 1; Ambrosiaster, On the First Letter to the Corinthians, 12, 3 (CSEL 81, 132).
 John Lennon.
 Idiomelon of the Vespers for Christmas.