“Blessed are the Peacemakers”


A hand holding two small flowers, one yellow one lilac

Peace – like love - is not an event, but an action. It is not something that is dropped on us from above, but something that we do, something that we choose.

The Gospel teaches us that we are called, each one, to proclaim in word and deed that God’s Kingdom is about being centred in God, caring and compassionate toward others, living the Beatitudes. Then, as Arundhati Roy said: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Well, I don’t get too many quiet days, but I know a woman who does. She is the only person I have ever known who has a professional qualification in peacemaking. But before you snigger, I have seen her in action and she is very good at what she does. We were theology students together and the greatest friendships are always formed in times of adversity.

When we were in Theology College, there was a big fight between the students and the teachers. It was over whether or not the course should include compulsory Greek classes. Some other time, when you really have nothing better to do, I’ll put a large glass of a decent Irish whiskey in your hand and then try my very best to explain why that seemed like such a huge issue that good and holy people committed to the love and understanding of God needed to get into a big fight about it. But, as it happened, it divided the entire College. Half of it was not speaking to the other half. Rude words were exchanged in corridors. People closed doors in each other’s faces. The whole College wore a scowl. It was a dark and nasty place.

But there was one young undergraduate student who knew exactly what to do. She went around to all the people most involved on all sides – the people with the strongest opinions (and some of them were pretty strong – I should know, I was one of them) – and she listened to them. Long and hard, she listened to them. Until she really understood why they thought as they did and why they felt as they did. Certainly she had her own opinion and she would give it if asked – clearly, but never unkindly. I discovered you don’t have to be neutral to be a peacemaker – just holy will do. Because she never wanted you to be interested in her opinion; she only wanted to be interested in yours. Because she believed that there was no-one who did not act with the best of motives. And she believed that if she could come to understand what lay behind people’s thoughts and feelings – especially their doubts and fears, she could make peace. And so she listened long and hard to so many different people and so many different views. She became known as someone to whom all sides could talk and be understood and have their opinion valued. It gave her a moral authority not usually associated with an undergraduate. And gradually – so gradually that most of them barely noticed – minds and hearts began to change. The waters of chaos gradually parted and dry land, common ground, appeared – common ground that gradually grew and became a big enough place where a fair compromise could be built.

And that is exactly what happened. (Sorry if you’re not into happy endings, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.)

And just in case you think that it’s all very well reaching acceptable and meaningful compromises in an ivory tower, you may wish to know that for the last fifteen years she has been working to build peace on the Afghan-Pakistan border where -  she tells me - it is no easier.

Blessed are the Peacemakers – they shall be called daughters and sons of God.

Let us pray that there may be Peace shared among us – and let it begin with me.

Paul O'Reilly SJ