Peace on Earth!

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Years ago, Simon & Garfunkel brought a smug nation up short with the lyrics to their classic song, “7 O’clock News,” a soul-searching version of  “Silent Night” punctuated with the grim news of the day at a time of year when everyone was preaching: Peace on Earth! As Simon & Garfunkel sang of holy nights where all is calm, a news anchor read the evening edition: “President Johnson originally proposed an outright ban covering discrimination by everyone for every type of housing, but it had no chance from the start, and everyone in Congress knew it … In Chicago, Richard Speck, accused murderer of nine student nurses, was brought before a grand jury today for indictment. The nurses were found stabbed and strangled in their apartments.”

Every year during this season, we blithely proclaim “Peace on Earth,” but is it within reach? Is anyone really listening? Does anyone know what it means or care? News reports today are filled with coverage of wars and rumors of wars, atrocities, sickening acts of terrorism, discrimination, murders, rapes and other violence. And more is on the way in ’08.

Webster’s Random House Dictionary defines peace as, “freedom from war, the absence of hostilities, a state of harmony between people or groups, freedom from dissension.”

We all sign up for that, right? Sounds good, but the devil — in the way of evil, apathy or self-righteousness — is in the details. “We have a big problem,” Jack Trout writes in Forbes. “The Christmas season’s ‘Peace on Earth, good will to man’ is not playing well this year. Ironically, the problem that this religious holiday is up against is, of all things, religion.” Quoting Philip Jenkins, one of this nation’s top religious scholars, writing in The Economist, Trout notes Jenkins asserts that when historians pick this century apart, they will likely cite religion worldwide as “the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs, guiding attitudes to political liberty, concepts of nationhood, conflicts and wars.”

Oh, the things we have done over the millenniums in the name of God!

Writing in the Naples Sun Times on the subject of tranquility, Michael Hickey correctly notes that peace “carries a positive connotation because few of us would admit to opposing wars, but people differ radically about what peace entails and how best to achieve it.”

The late Pope John XXIII, no stranger to the subject of peace, wrote in his celebrated 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris” that “Peace on Earth — which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after — can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.”

So, next time someone casually espouses in a Christmas card or holiday greeting, “Peace on Earth,” you might tell them that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. For now, it is the hope of peace that sustains us. And hope, as declared in Romans 5:5, never disappoints!

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