Fr. Bryan Howard
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 23 September 2018
Probably one of the most common prayers that people have is for peace on earth. All right thinking people desire peace, right? We don’t want to fight and argue and kill; we just want to get on with our lives. You see this even when you study military history. One of the great secrets of war is that most people can’t bring themselves to intentionally try to kill another person. In 1947, following World War II, the US military did a study and interviewed thousands of soldiers. They found that only about ¼ of front line soldiers even fired at the enemy and only about 2% aimed to intentionally kill. The rest, the other ¾ would fire over the enemy, or into the ground, or off to the side. Most soldiers just wanted the enemy to go away, a firing a gun in someone’s general direction is a very good way to encourage someone to go away. Similarly, 1% of fighter pilots account for about 50% of fighter kills, and the other 99% account for the other 50%. There are many firsthand accounts from throughout history of soldiers, perhaps on patrol, coming across a group of enemies, and the two groups shout insults at each other and maybe put down their weapons and throw sticks and rocks at each other until one group or the other goes away. The instinct for peace is a very strong human instinct. So, why is there so much war and violence in the world?
St. James explains, in his epistle, that wars come from our misplaced passions. He writes, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” It takes a very strong force to overcome our desire for peace, a force like anger, jealousy, greed, lust for power, or some other very strong passion. St. James tells us that these passions, when they are misplaced or disordered, can lead to conflict and war. He continues, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.”
Entire wars are fought over these reasons. Most wars start over competition for resources, land, and power. Again, World War II is a good example. Part of the reason for the war was Hitler’s lust for power, but that wasn’t all of it. He had to convince most of Germany to go to war. He did that by stoking their anger from the aftermath of World War I, their jealousy, especially at the Jews, and their desire for more land and resources for Germany. He called it lebensraum, or growing space.
The same forces that are behind most of the wars in human history are inside each one of us. Most of the conflicts, the arguments and fights, in our lives are caused by disordered passions. Think about some of the arguments and fights that you’ve been in, with your spouse or other family members or friends or ever strangers. How many of those can be traced back to anger, jealousy, or greed. One person wants something and they perceive the other person to be an obstacle to getting it. It can be as simple as a man coming home from work after a long day and all he wants is to sit down and relax and decompress, but maybe his wife’s been home alone all day and she really feels like she needs to talk. He gets annoyed that she’s won’t leave him alone, she gets annoyed that he isn’t listening, and pretty soon they’re fighting.
Here’s another scenario else that’s all too common. Someone in the family dies and it comes time to divide their stuff. How many times have arguments over inheritances divided families for years, and sometimes they never reconcile. Most of the time, if you talk with the two sides latter neither will think it was worth it, but they let the emotions of the moment get away from them.
We know that complete and lasting peace will only come when we’re in heaven. Our job now is to seek peace and strive to minimize conflict and violence in the world, starting with ourselves and in our own hearts and souls. Pray for peace, but also work for peace. In today’s Gospel we hear that the apostles were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus tells them, “’If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, received not me but the One who sent me.’” Jesus calls us to give and not to take, to serve and not to desire to be served, to strive for innocence, not influence and power. No matter what you do, whether you’re a CEO of a company, a manager, an office worker, a factory worker, a farmer, a fisherman, a housewife, or a member of the clergy, Jesus is calling you to use that position and any authority you have to serve, and to serve especially those who are most in need. That is how we promote peace in the world, and that is how we live in the peace of Christ.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.