Last December I remarked that the Master of the Order of Preachers asked all Dominicans to embrace a special time of prayer for world peace.  The Master observed,

The period we propose is Advent, when we are all waiting for the Incarnation of the Prince of Peace. Our focus on Peace will then start on the First Sunday of Advent and culminate on the Church’s Day of Peace on 1 January.

Members of the Order of Malta pledge themselves to “promote God’s glory and the world’s peace,” so these days of Advent extend both an invitation and a challenge for us to embrace Christ’s peace and make it a reality.  To do so, we might begin by seeking a definition of peace.

Common sense suggests peace is the opposite of the hostility, violence and oppression we encounter each day in the news media.  But while this negative quality – an absence – may represent the best political deals the leaders of nations can negotiate, it does not tell us what peace is.  In The City of God St. Augustine teaches that peace is “the tranquility of order,” and a landmark document of Vatican II expands this to observe peace is a work of justice and an effect of charity.

These reflections bring us closer to our goal of defining peace.  Justice is the virtue by which we stand firm in our commitment to give God, and one another, what each is due.  Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things simply because He is God, and love others as we love ourselves, because we have been created in God’s image and must demonstrate that nobility in our relations with one another, even our enemies.  To treat others as our equals, and to lay aside hostility so we may display God’s image in our actions, establishes the tranquility that characterizes God’s peace.

This is, clearly, far more than the armed neutrality our world commonly calls “peace,” and to ponder these qualities helps us understand the immensity of the title by which we acknowledge Jesus as “Prince of Peace.”  Our meditation should also lead us to stand in awe of our vocation as peacemakers, for our Catechism reminds us Our Savior “reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God.” (CCC, 2305)

We may not think of these things as we decorate our homes during these days of Advent, but these decorations speak of deep theological truths.  Our nativity scenes, for example, always feature an ox and a donkey.  We may take these creatures for granted, as they are the ordinary tenants of the spot where Mary and Joseph sought shelter "on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”  But in the book of Deuteronomy Moses tells the people, “You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together.” These two animals, prevented from cooperating with one another by their different walking patterns, are brought together at the manger, where the food of animals gives a first home to our Food of Life.

Even the ubiquitous Christmas Tree is a reminder of that “other” tree whereon Jesus won our salvation, a reminder that by embracing wood at the beginning and end of his life, our Prince of Peace drew all things to himself.

May these days of Advent be grace-filled and peaceful!

by Fr. Reginald Martin, OP