I climbed into a taxi at London Liverpool Street station on a socially distanced visit to see my 86-year-old mother. In the cabbie’s rear-view mirror, I noticed his eyes brighten when I told him I was a Catholic priest. He, too, was a Catholic. We made small talk about religion, homeschooling and lockdown’s effect on business.
With little traffic on the road, the cab sped along the Thames Embankment towards Westminster. I admired the beauty of the city. Wordsworth’s words, “Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!” felt apt and resonant.
The cab turned into Parliament Square and we were confronted by the sight of three towering grey boxes. Around the foot of the largest box, gatherings of men mingled, their movements tracked by a cordon of police officers. In a pre-Covid world, the boxes might have been mistaken for sinister art installations. But now their purpose was to shield the statues of Churchill, Gandhi and Mandela from any outbreak of secular iconoclasm.
“It’s going to be a bad day,” my cabbie sombrely predicted as we drove past the protesters who had come nursing their resentments, fears and anger. As I watched the news that night, the prediction was proved right.
Most of the recent expressions of protest in this country and elsewhere have been peaceful. However, some expressions have exhibited a more ugly face. Tweets, memes and posts are often barbed. A hardening of ideological positions fosters scepticism about the value of dialogue. The coarsening of civil debate risks trivialising the complexity of history and, as a result, skews attempts at the right ordering of relations between communities and individuals.
The Gospel of Peace, preached by the Church, is an antidote to such attitudes. It witnesses to the hope that when the truth is spoken in love, peace flourishes. When we reject “the father of lies”, when we refuse to spin the truth or wield it as a weapon of division, then we imitate more closely the One on whose lips no guile was found. The Gospel of Peace assures humanity that evil, the mysterium iniquitatis, will not have the final word in human affairs. That word belongs solely to the Crucified and Risen Christ and it will be a word of reconciliation.
In the City of God, St Augustine of Hippo reminds us that an authentic peace can only be built on what he called “the tranquillity of right order”, tranquillitas ordinis. If our thinking is disordered and composure of the heart is absent, then we will always struggle to know the truth about ourselves and others. Our efforts to build peace, sincere though they may be, will always be frustrated.
It is not the toppling of statues from their plinths, but the raising on high the Cross of Christ that will bring peace. He has “reconciled all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His Cross” (Col 1:20).
The Cross opens for us a way beyond mutual condemnation and the urge to scapegoat, by forgiving those who have trespassed against us. Christ understands that forgiveness is often hard for us to give and to accept. Therefore, through the life of His Church, He provides us with all the graces we need to make our conversion to the truth of peace a reality in our lives.
When engaging with unjust and violent forces, talk of forgiveness can sound like a weak response. But it is never so. To forgive is an act of moral courage. While the impulse to seek vengeance degrades the human person, forgiveness ennobles us. Beginning with our need for conversion of heart, grace operates on the cataracts of suspicion. All that has blurred our ability to recognise the other as our brother and sister is healed.
We arrived at my mother’s home. As I stepped from the taxi, the cabbie’s parting words were, “Stay safe. Peace.” It sounded like a blessing on the city and the world.
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