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December 15, 2014

World Day of Peace message urges action against human slavery -
A unique term to ponder: "integer-ity" -
Considering who the God of peace is this Christmas

1. Reflections on peace for Christmas.
2. The God of peace and the meaning of "peace."
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) A day in the life of a priest.
b) Racism in 21st century U.S. society.
c) The high cost of Christmas giving.
4. A unique term to consider: "integer-ity."
5. World Day of Peace accents human slavery.
6. Forms of human slavery.

1. Reflections on Peace for Christmas

What does the word "peace" mean, a word so basic to the church's celebration of Christmas? In a series of 2014 Advent reflections, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, not only examined the meaning of the word "peace," but explored misunderstandings of its meaning for Christians.

The Beatitude that proclaims "Blessed are the peacemakers" means what it says, he suggested in a Dec. 13 homily for Pope Francis and his closest aides. This particular Beatitude is not a call to be peaceful but to be peacemakers. Christians are called to be "persons who work for peace, who try to reconcile enemies and are ready to make the first step to restore peace after a quarrel."

Christians are "called to imitate the example of Christ, becoming channels through which the peace of God can reach our brothers," Father Cantalamessa said.

If a typical way of explaining how peace is established is to speak of victories over others, Father Cantalamessa proposed that the Christian way of explaining peace is to speak of victories over oneself that lead to eradicating a spirit of hostility or antipathy toward others. St. Paul, he noted, wrote that on the cross Jesus "destroyed enmity in himself." He "destroyed enmity, not the enemy, he destroyed it in himself, not in others."

Jesus on the cross "destroyed the wall of sin and enmity that impeded God's peace," Father Cantalamessa said. He asked, "What is there deep down in certain seemingly incurable conflicts if not, in fact, the will and secret hope to arrive one day at the destruction of the enemy?"

The priest commented that "the way to peace proposed by the Gospel makes sense not only in the realm of faith, it is also helpful in the political realm." For, "today we see clearly that the only way to peace is to destroy enmity, not the enemy. Enemies are destroyed with arms, enmity with dialogue."

In his homily Father Cantalamessa cited a popular slogan that says, "Think globally, act locally." This applies particularly to peace, he said. "It is necessary to think of global peace, but to act for peace at the local level."

Father Cantalamessa then added that peace is not made the way war is made. "Long preparations" are necessary for making war, but "peace is made exactly in the opposite way." Peacemakers begin "immediately," possibly with just one person and with "a simple handshake." Father Cantalamessa noted that recently "Pope Francis said that peace is 'handcrafted.'"

Father Cantalamessa made clear that peacemaking by Christians applies not only to relationships with others but to relationships within the church itself. In fact, he said that "we, too, who are gathered here must do something to be worthy of speaking of peace."

Peacemaking "with those who are close is often more difficult" than with those who are more distant, he said. He asked, "How can we Christians say that we are promoters of peace if we then quarrel among ourselves?"

Father Cantalamessa proposed that this message about peacemaking applies within the church to parishes, religious families, the Synod of Bishops and the Roman Curia. He cited the Gospel of Matthew, which says "You are all brethren!" (23:8), and he asked, "If this word does not apply within the church to the closest circle of her ministers, to whom does it apply?"

2. Knowing the God of Peace

Father Cantalamessa suggested in the first of his 2014 Advent homilies at the Vatican that a misunderstanding of who God is and what God is like can stand in the way of grasping what peacemaking means for Christians.

Peace is a gift of God in Christ, he said. For Christians, he added, this gift received in baptism "must change little by little . . . our relation with God."

But "one of the causes, perhaps the principal one, of modern man's alienation from religion and from the faith is the distorted image that he has of God," Father Cantalamessa insisted. "This is also the cause of a spent Christianity, without thrust and without joy, lived more as a duty than as a gift."

Father Cantalamessa said that "when Jesus says 'Shalom!' and 'Receive the Holy Spirit,' he communicates to the disciples something of 'the peace of God, which passes all understanding.'" Father Cantalamessa explained, "In this sense peace is almost a synonym of grace."

Christians should ask themselves, Father Cantalamessa recommended, what image of God tends to come to mind for them. For example, what comes to mind when they think of God's will. The priest said:

"It suffices to ask oneself this question and to ask it also of others, 'What ideas, what words, what realities arise spontaneously in you . . . when you say: 'Our Father, who art in heaven . . . thy will be done'? While saying this, generally one interiorly bows his head in resignation, as if preparing for the worst."

Father Cantalamessa thought that for many, "unconsciously, the will of God is connected with all that is displeasing, painful" -- as though "God was the enemy of all celebration, joy and pleasure."

Another question to ask in coming to terms with one's image of God involves mercy. Father Cantalamessa suggested asking, "What does the invocation 'Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy,' suggest in us?" He expressed concern that this can become only a request for forgiveness and to be spared God's punishment.

"The word 'mercy' has become very debased" due to "being used often in a negative sense. However, Father Cantalamessa continued, "according to the Bible 'Kyrie eleison' should be translated, 'Lord, have your tenderness descend upon us.'"

The priest noted that "when the sick, the lepers and the blind cry out to Jesus, as in Matthew 9:27, 'Lord, have mercy (eleison) on me!' they do not intend to say 'forgive me,' but 'show your compassion on me.'"

If God's mercy never was ignored, it nonetheless has been understood as if it referred only to moderating "the inalienable rigors of justice," Father Cantalamessa said. But the Holy Spirit "changes this situation when we open ourselves to it," teaching people of faith "to look at God with new eyes -- as the God of the law, certainly, but yet first as the God of love and of grace" who is "slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

This leads to discovering God "as an ally and a friend" and "a most tender Father." Father Cantalamessa concluded his homily with a question, "What idea of God the Father is in my heart: that of the world or that of Jesus?"

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

A Day in the Life of a Priest: "One of the most awe-inspiring and captivating aspects of being a priest is in the constant emotional shifts we make in our ministry. In the course of a day it is not unusual for us to congratulate a family that has welcomed its first child and to console another that has just lost a loved one to death; to meet with one couple preparing for marriage and with another barely speaking because of a deep and frightening hurt; to welcome someone back to church after a long illness and to listen to another tearfully explain she has only months to live. No matter what our vocation is, we all confront difficult issues, of course, but there is a certain level of unspoken intimacy parishioners offer their priests, manifested again and again as you invite us into the most significant situations of your lives. At ordination we commit ourselves to stand with you in good times and bad, at the peaks and in the valleys, and to be especially present when the peaks are highest and the valleys lowest -- in other words, to be especially present to you when you're dealing with matters of life and death." (From a Nov. 24 column by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle in the Northwest Catholic, the newspaper of the archdiocese)

Racism in the U.S. Today: "African Americans deeply believe that racism is alive and well in these United States, and so do I. It is such a widely held belief and perception that it needs to be addressed for the common good of who we are as a people. . . . There is also the widely held perception by African Americans that there is a double standard of suspicion and reaction by law enforcement when our peacekeepers face similar situations in the white and black communities. Again, it is their perception, and widely held perceptions need to be dealt with, as they are rooted in some truth and reality. . . . There is no quick fix to the perceptions which gave rise to the reactions to Ferguson, [Mo.,] or Staten Island -- Cleveland and Phoenix as well -- but there has to be a national resolve to recognize the seeds of distrust and unrest within us all. Only then will the nation move on in addressing the issues of poverty, injustice, and racism." (Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., in a Dec. 13 entry to his blog on the diocesan website discussing the current debate in the U.S. involving the treatment of black men by law enforcement officers)

The High Cost of Christmas Giving: "Don't get me wrong: I love Christmas -- including the giving and receiving of gifts. Despite having played Scrooge in a parish Christmas play (quite convincingly, my parishioners told me), I don't, in real life, respond 'Bah humbug' when someone tells me how much they love Christmas. But I don't think it makes me Scrooge to suggest that, in order to have a great Christmas, we need not run up crippling debts. . . . The most meaningful gifts are about expressing life, not luxury. . . . You don't need a large bank balance or a stratospheric credit card limit to show generosity. You can be generous in a way that shows love and affection, rather than trying to buy it." (Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury writing in this year's Christmas edition of Radio Times)

4. A Unique Term to Ponder: "Integer-ity"

"[St.]Thomas More lived in a time of extraordinary social upheaval, at least as turbulent as our own and as violent," Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Ontario, said in a Dec. 2 address to the All Party Interfaith National Breakfast on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Noting that the 16th century saint is the patron of lawyers, judges and politicians, the cardinal spelled out, for the benefit of legislators, the meaning of the integrity by which Thomas More both lived and died.

"He lived with integrity -- that is, he was an integer, a whole number, not divided as a fraction, with the public part of him following and conforming to the shifting whims of his monarch or public opinion and the inner personal part of him guided by faith and reason to seek the truth. No, to live like that in public life is to be a fraction, not an integer. Integrity means being whole; what he said and what he did and what he believed were one. He did not personally believe one thing, while publicly doing another."

Cardinal Collins said that "like Thomas More, we all need to be people of integrity -- integer-ity -- and to look to both faith and reason as we seek to respond to the crises of life."

It should be noted "for the benefit of those who think that faith is a simple matter of feeling, like taste," that while Thomas More's life was one of faith, "it was not a merely subjective faith," the cardinal said. He noted that the saint "flew, as must we all, with the two wings of faith and reason, each needing the other."

Thomas More, he noted, "would not sign an oath that expressed what, after much thought, he did not believe to be objectively true." Thus "he gave his life, a martyr to freedom of conscience."

5. World Day of Peace Accents Human Slavery

"Millions of people today -- children, women and men of all ages -- are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery," Pope Francis writes in his message for the Jan. 1, 2015, World Day of Peace. In the face of great suffering throughout the world, whether caused by wars or "human agency," or due to epidemics and natural disasters, the pope urges people in all walks of life to "resist the temptation to act in a manner unworthy of our humanity."

The theme of the 2015 World Day of Peace is, "No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters." Indifference to the reality of contemporary human slavery is a temptation that needs to be resisted on all levels of society, Pope Francis suggests. He writes:

"When considering the reality of human trafficking, illegal trafficking of migrants and other acknowledged or unacknowledged forms of slavery, one has the impression that they occur within a context of general indifference."

The pope calls upon governments to ensure that legislation "truly respects the dignity of the human person in the areas of migration, employment, adoption, the movement of businesses offshore and the sale of items produced by slave labor." He calls upon intergovernmental organizations "to coordinate initiatives for combating the transnational networks of organized crime that oversee the trafficking of persons and the illegal trafficking of migrants."

Businesses also must make themselves aware of the facts about human slavery today. Pope Francis urges businesses to be "vigilant that forms of subjugation or human trafficking do not find their way into the distribution chain."

But everyone needs to be on the outlook for instances of human slavery, the pope suggests. "Let us ask ourselves, as individuals and as communities, whether we feel challenged when, in our daily lives, we meet or deal with persons who could be victims of human trafficking or when we are tempted to select items which may well have been produced by exploiting others."

6. Forms of Human Slavery

Human slavery "is rooted in a notion of the human person that allows him or her to be treated as an object" and a "means to an end," Pope Francis points out in his message for the 2015 World Day of Peace. Slavery continues in a variety of forms, he states, even though "the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending" its practice and has launched strategies to combat it.

Human trafficking, forced marriages, and the actions of terrorist groups that kidnap and hold people captive are signs that human slavery still is practiced. The peace day message observes, too, that minors and adults today "are made objects of trafficking for the sale of organs, for recruitment as soldiers, for begging, for illegal activities such as the production and sale of narcotics or for disguised forms of cross-border adoption."

Among the root causes of human slavery is "corruption on the part of people willing to do anything for financial gain," the pope says. Here he points out that "slave labor and human trafficking often require the complicity of intermediaries, be they law enforcement personnel, state officials or civil and military institutions."

But the pope also urges awareness that poverty contributes to human slavery. "Not infrequently, the victims of human trafficking and slavery are people who look for a way out of a situation of extreme poverty; taken in by false promises of employment, they often end up in the hands of criminal networks," he writes.

"Tragically, the growing scourge of man's exploitation by man gravely damages the life of communion and our calling to forge interpersonal relations marked by respect, justice and love," Pope Francis comments.

The church's role in combating human slavery is highlighted by the pope's message. He says that "the church constantly engages in charitable activities inspired by the truth of the human person." In fact, he adds:

"The church is "charged with showing to all the path to conversion, which enables us to change the way we see our neighbors, to recognize in every other person a brother or sister in our human family and to acknowledge his or her intrinsic dignity in truth and freedom."