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With the World Day of Peace approaching we reflect on the words of St. John XXIII and St. Teresa of Kolkata

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Group of people around the world. Chalk drawing.

Jan. 1, the day when we begin a new year, is the World Day of Peace for the Catholic Church. Inspired by St. John XXIII, St. Paul VI established the annual celebration in 1967.

In his encyclical letter “Pacem in Terris,” John XXIII praises those who work for the cause of peace, but he laments that they are too few. He writes, “Considering the need, the men who are shouldering this responsibility are far too few in number, yet they are deserving of the highest recognition from society, and we rightfully honor them with our public praise.”

But John XXIII then insists, “Everyone who has joined the ranks of Christ must be a glowing point of light in the world, a nucleus of love, a leaven of the whole mass.” Peace belongs to every Christian, flowing from the unity of the church and our vocation to discipleship. It is not an optional pursuit. It is part and parcel of our vocation.

If we are so blessed to live in a time of peace — that is, if we and those we love live in places unmarked by war and violence — we can easily forget that there are unsettled places.

To continue the fight for peace is to be aware. We grow so weary of the news of war. The story of the needless suffering in Ukraine caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demonic war has become old to so many of us in America. But despite this being a natural enough fault — indeed, it’s a gruesome thing to ponder the sorrows and calamity of suffering — we cannot allow the temptation of apathy to shape our lives.

We have a certain duty to be informed as Christian citizens. We must be up to date so as to speak the truth in the face of unrest. War is never a morally neutral thing. Christian voices must respond unhesitatingly.

But apart from following the news of the day, or offering financial support to humanitarian efforts as we’re able, it’s not easy to know what to do in service of the cause of peace.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, in her acceptance speech when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, said: “Truth will bring prayer in our homes, and the fruit of prayer will be that we believe that in the poor, it is Christ. And if we really believe, we will begin to love. And if we love, naturally, we will try to do something.”

Mother Teresa’s words provide the twin roots of our response.

We must pray for peace daily. We must pray for an end to the war in Ukraine, for an end to violence in Ethiopia. We must pray that peace would spread across the four corners of the globe. We must approach the throne of the Prince of Peace and pray that swords would be beat into plowshares and spears turned to pruning hooks (cf. Is 2:4).

And then, as Mother Teresa suggests, little by little our hearts will be changed by that prayer. John XXIII says, “The world will never be the dwelling place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved.”

When the Prince of Peace is enthroned in our hearts, our lives will be shaped by his governance. We can radiate peace in our online discourse, preferring to cultivate peace in our friendships and families, peace among our colleagues and in the workplace.

The great lie is that these efforts of peacekeeping won’t matter or will have little effect. Others suggest that only full-scale revolution will be of any avail. To those hearts, John XXIII says, “We would remind such people that it is the law of nature that all things must be of gradual growth.” Slow and deliberate growth from within is the way forward, the pope declares. We must keep this always before our mind, reminding ourselves that the call to be a peacemaker is a daily task.

This January, we make the prayer of John XXIII our own: “May Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong. Through his power and inspiration may all peoples welcome each other to their hearts as brothers, and may the peace they long for ever flower and ever reign among them.”

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