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World peace and the Christian's inner life


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Ramiro Pellitero

Pope Francis has worked throughout his pontificate for peace, always insisting on the common responsibility that unites everyone to achieve social justice.

It would seem that peace, which concerns us so much, is only a "social question," of agreements and laws. True peace also has to do with the spirit and the heart of each one of us; hence the importance of cultivating what the Christian tradition calls the "spiritual life" or "interior life".

We would like to highlight the Pope's teachings published in January on two occasions: his speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, which focused on the great pillars of peace; and his Apostolic Letter Totum amoris est, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Francis de Sales. In this letter (signed on December 28), the Pope underlines the centrality of love in the spiritual or interior life of the Christian.

The pillars of peace

This year the Pope's speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See (9-I- 2023) was a continuation of the January 1 Message for the World Peace workshop : "No one can be saved alone. Starting from Covid-19 to trace together paths of peace".

Francis now wished to express "an invocation of peace in a world that sees divisions and wars growing", after the contemplation, during Christmas, of the Son of God, called in the Sacred Scriptures "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5). 

It is also the 60th anniversary of St. John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in terris, published a few months before his death and half a year after the so-called "Cuban missile crisis", which represented a nuclear threat and a step in the direction of the annihilation of humanity.

Precisely the diplomatic task - the Pope observes - "is an exercise in humility because it requires sacrificing a little self-love in order to enter into a relationship with the other, to understand his reasons and points of view, in contrast to human pride and arrogance, the cause of every belligerent will".

First of all, Francis reiterates that "the possession of atomic weapons is immoral", along the lines of St. John XXIII. He deplores the stalemate of the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" (agreement nuclear with Iran) and the war in Ukraine, as peaks of an iceberg that he has been calling the third world war (in progress) "in pieces" in a globalized world. To these are added other active wars or armed conflicts in the world.

He calls for an end to the "logic" of armaments -the degree program armament-, because peace is not possible where instruments of death proliferate.

In the wake of Pacem in terris, he then dwells on four fundamental goods or "pillars that regulate both relations between individual human beings and between political communities": they are truth and justice, solidarity and freedom. The four are intertwined, the Pope observes, in a fundamental premise: "every human being is a person". That is to say, I might add, in a correct anthropology as the foundation of a correct ethics, compatible with a Christian vision of life.

Peace in truth

In the first place, "building peace in truth means above all respecting the human person, with his 'right to existence and physical integrity,' who must be guaranteed 'freedom in the search for truth, in the expression of thought and in its dissemination,'"as John XXIII's encyclical already pointed out.

In this framework the Pope stresses, together with the recognition of women's rights, the need to defend life against induced abortion and the discarding of other weak human beings: the sick, the disabled and the elderly. He insists, as on other occasions, on the inadmissibility of the death penalty and his desire that it disappear from the legislation of today's world.

He points out the need to promote the birth rate to protect the future of society. And it defends an "integral vision of the Education", which implies "integrating the paths of human, spiritual, intellectual and professional growth, allowing the person to free himself from multiple forms of slavery and to establish himself in society in a free way and manager".

It notes the real educational catastrophe that the pandemic has left behind, and calls for states to rethink "the shameful and asymmetrical relationship between the public expense reserved for Education and thefunds allocated to armaments".

He warns that peace requires universal recognition of religious freedom (limited in one third of the world) and denounces the fact that one out of every seven Christians in the world is persecuted. Furthermore, he defends that religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship but also includes the freedom for everyone to "act according to his conscience in public life and in the exercise of his profession".

Finally, in this first section, Francis points out two fundamental principles concerning peace in truth. First, that religions "are not (are) problems, but part of the solution for a more harmonious coexistence" (speech at the Plenary Session of the VII World Religious Leaders congress , Astana, 14- IX-2022). Second, that "the root of all conflict is the imbalance of the human heart" (Mk 7:21).

Peace, justice and solidarity

A second pillar of peace is justice. Just as the 1962 crisis was resolved thanks to trust in international law, so too now it is necessary to create spaces for dialogue among peoples to avoid polarization, totalitarianism and ideological colonization.

Thirdly, peace requires solidarity. That is, "to know how to be responsible for the fragility of others in the search for a common destiny" (Fratelli tutti, 115). Following the pandemic, Francis wishes to point out three areas where greater solidarity is urgently needed: migration (it is urgent to develop a normative framework so that migrants can be welcomed, accompanied, promote and integrated; as well as attend and care for the shipwrecked, not only in some countries where they land); the world of Economics and work (providing profits in relation to the service of the common good and combating exploitation); and care for the common home (with a more incisive attention to climate change).

Peace and freedom

With regard to freedom, Pacem in terris already pointed out that the building of peace requires that there be no room for "injury to the freedom, integrity and security of other nations, whatever their territorial extent or capacity for defense" (n. 66).

The Bishop of Rome calls attention to the prevalence, in various parts of our world, of a culture of oppression, aggression and the weakening of democracy, and once again expresses the wish formulated by "the good Pope" (St. John XXIII): that among men and their respective peoples "thereshouldreign not fear, but love, which tends to express itself in a loyal and multiform partnership , bearer of many goods"(Pacem in terris, 67).

Love, core topic of the Christian's inner life

The apostolic letter of Pope Francis, Totum amoris est(Everything belongs to love, 28-XII-2022), on the fourth centenary of the death of St. Francis de Sales, places love as the origin, manifestation and goal of the spiritual life of the Christian.

The content of the letter can be described schematically with nine words. Four to describe the context of the thought and doctrine of St. Francis de Sales; and five that point out his "decisions". The four words of the context can be: affectivity, incarnation, renewal and discernment. The five words in relation to his "decisions": freedom, holiness, joy, charity and Jesus Christ.

The context

1. Affectivity. "God is God of the human heart" (synthesis of his thought). Importance of integrating affectivity in the whole of man and therefore of the spiritual life. "In the heart and through the heart is where that subtle and intense unitary process takes place, by virtue of which man recognizes God and, at the same time, himself, his own origin and depth, his own realization in the call to love".

"Faith is above all a disposition of the heart." Indeed. And in the Christian sense (already in its biblical root), by heart is understood not first of all a feeling - faith is not something purely emotional -, but neither first of all nor merely an assent of subject intellectual - which is also a dimension of faith - but the whole of the person, which includes, therefore, his affections.

2. Incarnation. The holy doctor rejected both voluntarism (which confuses holiness with justification through one's own strength and produces a self-indulgence deprived of true love) and quietism (a passive and unaffected withdrawal , which undervalues the flesh and history). "In the school of the Incarnation she learns to read history and to inhabit it with confidence." One of his first lessons is that "love is what gives value to our works"; and he maintains that "Everything in the Church is for love, in love, through love and from love" (A Treatise on the Love of God). John Paul II called him "Doctor of divine love".

3. Renewal. This saint lived between the 16th and 17th centuries. From the intellectual and cultural point of view, he gathered the best of the previous century to pass it on to the following century, "reconciling the heritage of humanism with the tendency towards the absolute characteristic of the mystical currents". All this, together with a "B theological dignity": putting the spiritual life (prayer) first and also assuming the dimension of ecclesial life (feeling in the Church and with the Church) in the theological task. And in this way he points out that the theological method does not go hand in hand with individualism.

4. Discernment. He discovered that in his time a new world was opening up, where there was also a "thirst for God", although in a different way than before. It was necessary to respond to this "with old and new languages". He knew how to read the moods of that time. He said: "it is very important to look at the condition of the times". And so he was able to elaborate a fruitful spiritual and pastoral synthesis, centered on the relationship staff and on charity. He also knew how to proclaim the Gospel anew in a flexible and at the same time effective way.

In conclusion, the Pope observes: "This is also what awaits us as an essential task for this change of era: a Church that is not self-referential, free from all worldliness, but capable of inhabiting the world, of sharing people's lives, of walking together, of listening and welcoming". This is what Francis de Sales did, reading his time with financial aid of grace. Therefore, this doctor of the Church invites us to "get out of the excessive preoccupation for ourselves, for the Structures, for thesocial image, and to ask ourselves rather what are the concrete needs and the spiritual hopes of our people".

The "decisions

1. "Repropose" freedom (in Christian perspective), in the framework of the initiative of divine grace and of the partnership of our human action.

To reformulate the question of true "devotion": not as a simple set of more or less pious or ascetic practices, but rather as a manifestation of charity, something like what a flame does with respect to fire. And, therefore, going to the root of devotion, which is holiness, for all Christians in every state of life, also in the "secular city". 

3. To present the Christian life as "ecstasy of work and life", in the literal sense of the term ecstasy (going out). That is to say: the "joy of faith" that arises when we go out of ourselves towards God and others. And not as a set of obligations: "It is not living in us, but outside of us and above us", in "a perpetual ecstasy of action and operation".

Pope Francis had already said it and now takes it up again: "The great risk of today's world, with its multiple and overwhelming offer of consumption, is an individualistic sadness that springs from the comfortable and greedy heart, from the unhealthy search for superficial pleasures, from an isolated conscience. When the interior life is closed in one's own interests, there is no more room for others, the poor no longer enter, the voice of God is no longer heard, the sweet joy of his love is no longer enjoyed, the enthusiasm for doing good no longer palpitates. Believers also run this risk, which is certain and permanent. Many fall into it and become resentful, complaining, lifeless beings" (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 2).

4. Consider, as a criterion for discerning the truth of this lifestyle, charity towards one's neighbor: if there is no charity, the "ecstasies" of prayer can be illusory and even come from the devil.

5. Keep in mind the profound origin of Christian love that attracts the heart (because spiritual life cannot exist without affection): "the love (of God) manifested by the incarnate Son". That is, Jesus Christ, in his whole life and especially on the cross. For this reason, says this holy doctor, "Calvary is the mount of lovers".