The Immigrant Mind: Peace On Earth?
Luma Simms | December 25, 2016
We look at pictures of war-torn Aleppo and wonder if we will ever see true peace on earth. But–if we contemplate our own heart condition–we find turmoil toward our fellow man. The lack of peace without and within can cause us to doubt the message of Advent, the prophecy of Isaiah:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
This lack of inward and outward peace can also cause us to doubt what the angels sang in the heavens 2,000 years ago when that child was born:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
Many people suffer with bouts of doubt, especially during the Advent and Christmas season, when the incongruity of the message “peace on earth and good will toward men” and the reality of tumult and torment seem more manifest. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) has called this the “oppressive power of unbelief.” As he explained to interviewer Peter Seewald in God and the World, faith is a path–a journey–that grows through suffering and seasons of doubt.
“Faith can only mature by suffering anew, at every stage in life, the oppression and the power of unbelief, by admitting its reality and then finally going right through it, so that it again finds the path opening ahead for a while.”
Doubt can be a commonplace obstacle, given our humanity–one that we must overcome again and again during life. There are periods during which the doubt is oppressive, powerful and painful. Although the Scriptures proclaimed Christ’s incarnation, all we see today are images of bloodshed and war. While pastors recount stories of healing and redemption from their pulpits, we know a mother of three little children in a hospital bed dying from cancer days before Christmas. Hymns and carols chant peace on earth while Mosul, Aleppo and a host of other cities are ravaged by the hate of men for one another.
For all of this, there is objectivity to the words “Prince of Peace.” Uttered by one of God’s prophets–Isaiah–they are not dependent upon whether or not we experience peace, or even whether or not we can achieve it in recalcitrant places like the Arab World.
This objectivity has to do with who the person of Christ is and not on our knowledge of him, or even on the strength of our faith. That he exists, as ipsum esse subsistens (existence itself), he is non-contingent. He is to be–he is a verb. Christ’s title, Prince of Peace, is therefore something that is part of his nature as God. On the other hand, our existence is contingent; furthermore, our intellect is darkened and our will is weakened. Therefore, what we feel and perceive do not always match up with the truth that exists outside of us.
Ratzinger has said that in Bethlehem was the “decisive breakthrough in world history, leading toward the uniting of creatures with God.” That unification between creature and creator was accomplished by the God whose nature is peace. And Ratzinger reminds us that this is the true reality: “God really became man. He did not just disguise himself as man; did not just play the part for a while in history, but he truly is man—and that finally, when he stretches out his arms on the cross, he makes himself into a wide open space into which we can enter.”
In a superficial, mechanical world there is a lack of capacity for this type of paradox: that something can be real and true, but not necessarily measurable or perceived by our human senses. The philosophy of our age has truth as completely subjective: my truth and your truth; my experience and your experience. Because in our culture, only that which we measure–which we perceive–can be real. And in line with this faulty philosophy is how we measure such things as peace. But in the final analysis, the message of Advent and Christmas is about a reality which Jesus Christ the God-Man accomplished, whether or not we sense it or even acknowledge it.
As we mourn the lack of evident tangible peace in the world around us, as we suffer through our doubts, it is then that the mystery of faith miraculously opens our eyes, and we catch a glimpse of a reality outside our horizon: Heaven breaking through; heaven coming to earth. We find that by divine intervention, in awe we inhale, “Glory to God,” and exhaling, we whisper, “Prince of Peace.”