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Blessed Are The Peacemakers

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The Bible can be used to try to justify a number of things that simply cannot be justified. It has been used in an attempt to justify slavery, while others have attempted to rationalize the use of narcotic drugs using various passages from the Old Testament, etc. This is not in any way testimony that Scripture is somehow flawed or something less than God's word. Rather, it is testimony to man's ability to "read into" Scripture what he wants it to say.

Even Satan quotes Scripture, and in doing so, he abuses it, twisting it to serve his own ends [Mt 4:1-11]. But not every abuse of Scripture has a world of malice behind it. Some misreading might even be well meaning, but none of them are completely innocuous.

One such misreading of Scripture concerns the seventh beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God" [Mt 5:9]. Some have begun to interpret this scripture in a way that supports an approach to conflict management that is absolutely conciliatory, an attitude that includes a readiness to extend the scope of compromise much wider than justice might seem to allow, all with the sole aim of avoiding conflict at all costs. Anyone who falls short of this absolute conciliatory posture is regarded not so much a peacemaker as a troublemaker.

But such an interpretation cannot possibly be correct, because it comes in conflict with the living example of Christ himself. For he said: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man's enemies will be those of his own household" [Mt 10:34-36].

Jesus can hardly be regarded as universally appeasing: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men's faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to...Alas for you, blind guides! [Mt 23:13, 16]. Or, consider the discourse on the Bread of Life: "[...] anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.' He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue. After hearing it, many of his followers said, "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it [...] After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him" [Jn 6:58-60, 66].

Absolute conciliation often allows threatening and dangerous conditions to develop within a community, and to that extent it fails justice and is thus irresponsible. The principal aim of a community is not "peace" in the sense of an absence of trouble, but "peace" in the sense of a real unity or harmony as a condition for the good of every member of the community. It is this latter meaning that accords with the original meaning of the Hebrew shalom; to greet a person with Salaam is to wish for him everything that makes for his highest good, not merely the absence of trouble.

The distinction is important, because man's highest good is not the absence of conflict, but the possession of God in the Beatific Vision. A peacemaker is one who does everything for the sake of his neighbor's highest good, laboring to establish all those conditions conducive to that end.

Now the Church is the principal means to that end, for Christ established it for our salvation: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time" [Mt 28:18-20]. The sacraments, sacramentals, the liturgy, canon law, and Church teaching, all exist for the sake of man's salvation.

But the Church is a living body, the Mystical Body of Christ, and a living body is characterized by unity, while it belongs to a corpse to decompose. That is why those who choose to dissent from established Church teaching and who are committed to sowing the seeds of dissent, such as teachers and professors employed by a Catholic educational institution, are anything but peacemakers. And neither are the leaders that tolerate them in the name of "peace". A staff made up of radical dissenters and those faithful to magisterial teaching - as well as everything in between - is not a community, but a divided society that cannot achieve its proper end. While one person builds up, another tears down, while a number of others look on, completely indifferent either way.

The peacemaker aims to bring about a real and genuine unity within the Church, not in the world or with the world - for that is impossible. And so he aims, among other things, to eradicate illegitimate dissent, which is the kind of dissent based on principles incompatible with Catholic principles, for example the principles of Postmodern Relativism, or Marxism, or Rousseauism, etc.

But leaders who tolerate such division in a Catholic institution under the banner of diversity of perspectives, freedom, tolerance, etc., are engaging in a kind of self-deception; for they substitute the genuine good of ecclesial unity for the empirical aspect of unity, that is, the feeling and appearance of a unified community. The situation is comparable to a surgeon who refuses to operate for fear of disturbing the "peace" of a person's body, which is already seriously infected by disease.

Behind the absolute conciliatory, "avoid-conflict-at-all-costs" approach to leadership lurks a Rousseaunian view of the human person, which assumes that no one is affected by Original Sin, that everyone is naturally good-willed, and that conflict and division are rooted not in the sinful hearts of men, but in environmental conditions and misunderstanding.

But although some conflict might very well be the result of misunderstanding that can be resolved through open and honest dialogue, by no means is this the whole story. Rousseaunian anthropology is simply incompatible with the Judeo- Christian understanding of the human person. Evil is real and originates in the heart, not in the environment: "For it is from within, from men's hearts, that evil intentions emerge" [Mk 7:21]. And not everyone is good-willed: "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you" [Jn 15:18-19].

Indeed, diplomacy, circumspection, tactfulness, foresight and caution are all integral parts of prudence, and good leaders must act prudently. Good conflict management is subtle, patient, professional, flexible, and careful to minimize possible negative consequences of good decisions, and open to compromising what can be compromised without violating principles of justice and thus risking the souls of others. But "he who does not gather with me scatters" [Lk 11:23], and the one who scatters is playing with souls. Tolerance in this case is not a virtue, but the very antithesis of the seventh beatitude.

Copyright 2006 Douglas McManaman.

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