Peace Spirituality

Finding the spirit of the still strange, risen Lord

by David McLoughlin
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 9:26-31 | 1 John 3:18-24 | John 15:1-8

Today Saul enters the picture and with him violence. The Jerusalem community are scared of him.  His recent Damascus conversion does nothing to allay their fears.  We get a more accurate insight into the internal fragility of the early community; not yet fully confidant in the abiding spirit of their, still strange, risen Lord.  Saul arrives and the kindly Barnabas mediates on his behalf.  He tells of the vision of the risen Jesus and Saul’s remarkable recent attempt at preaching Jesus, as Messiah, in Damascus.  They are wary.

Paul is young and confident with a detailed knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures which he can quote, at will, from memory.  At ease in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek he is able to argue with all-comers.  Immediately he starts wandering the city, preaching in the name of Jesus, as though he were an Apostle.  They can’t cope with him.  To make matters worse he upsets the Greek-speaking Jewish disciples, with whom he should have had more in common.  The uneasy balance of the community disintegrates as the Greeks plan to kill him. There is a disturbing upsurge of violence here that shows just how hard-won would be the more contemplative account in John’s gospel of all as members of Christ, the one vine.

They hustle Saul to the coast and put him on a boat to Tarsus, back to the family tent-making business, nearly a thousand miles away. We hear no more of him for ten years. But in those years the full significance of the Risen Lord’s ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ will become clear. Saul, as Paul, will return with his teaching of the Church, as the body of Christ, in which each one of us can find a welcoming home, and a unique role, despite our past.

David McLoughlin is a member of our Nonviolence Working Group and is senior Lecturer in Theology, Newman University, Birmingham. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Peace Spirituality

The good shepherd, the leader who provides, ‘life to the full’

by John Williams
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 4:8-12 | 1 John 3:1-2 | John 10:11-18

The most striking feature of the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday is the commonality of the First Reading and the Gospel in three respects. Firstly, the location, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Secondly, the audience, the religious leaders.  Thirdly, the event preceding the discourse, a healing.

The allegory of the ‘Good Shepherd’ should not be read in isolation from the Old Testament references to the shepherds of Israel, who were the political and religious leaders that the prophets denounced.  Ezekiel 34 especially, depicts the deplorable leadership of shepherds who broke the commandments; who killed, stole and lied, causing violence and suffering for many:

  • shepherds who fed themselves instead of their flock
  • shepherds who failed to care for the weak and the sick
  • shepherds who ruled with cruelty and violence.

We cannot be blind to our present political leaders who are culpable in the same way as Ezekiel describes, when:

  • they engage in the self-interest of the arms trade
  • they fail to use human and financial resources for the well and the sick
  • they align themselves with foreign governments that inflict war and suffering on their own people and their neighbours.

However, Ezekiel goes on to describe the day when God will become the shepherd leader, ‘I, myself will shepherd my people …’ and ‘I shall make a covenant of peace with them …’ This is akin to the Psalmist when he says; ‘The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.’  Today, in the Gospel, Jesus declares that he himself is that shepherd, ‘I am the good shepherd.’

This good shepherd is the leader who provides, ‘life to the full’. This fullness of life is illustrated in the preceding healing, of the blind man in the Gospel and the lame man in the First Reading.  Let us pray today for our political and religious leaders, that their decision-making will bring life, not death.

John Williams is a Trustee of the Christian Peace Education Fund and former Secondary Schools Adviser for Westminster Diocese. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Peace Spirituality

Jesus invites us to look and see

by Paul McGowan, Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Easter…

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 | 1 John 2:1-5 | Luke 24:35-48

The disciples are sharing their stories about the risen Lord. There is a general hubbub, and it is not clear who is listening to whom, if anyone is. Into this atmosphere, the Lord steps and announces ‘Peace’. Naturally, this causes great alarm, terror even. This is not unfamiliar to us. Anyone who announces peace will find it does not go down that well. A politician who insists that war is not the way or that innocent blood will not be spilled will find that alarm and fear predominates, even among those who maintain that peace really is what they want.

To try to calm the general outbreak of anxiety, Jesus gets the disciples to look and see. The truth is physical, something to be touched and known, made up of hands, feet, flesh and bones. Then he gets them to pay attention to the marks of suffering in this body. It is not what it was, not in pristine condition, but they know how the marks got there, they know how this happened, and maybe they even know why it happened.

Doubts linger, so Jesus tries another angle. There are some basic human needs. Jesus demonstrates one of them before their eyes. He eats the fish. It’s not a slap-up meal, but it’s good for you, and it’s good to share what you have, and for some of you, remember, this is why I chose you, you fishermen.

And at last Jesus is able to move to the Scriptures. This realisation of Peace, this physical reality, this battered body, these basic needs met, it is all there to be retrieved from the sources, just as we discussed so many times before, on the road to Jerusalem. The hard knocks are inevitable, it seems, but so is the rising. Now, remember all this when you go to places I have never been.

Paul is a member of the Pax Christi Executive Committee and the Coventry Justice and Peace Group. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

The fruit of peace is solidarity and justice

by Katrina Alton
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Easter…

Acts 4:32-35 | 1 John 5:1-6 | John 20:19-31

How were the first followers of Jesus transformed from being a group of frightened people hiding behind locked doors, to a vibrant justice filled community that inspired others to join them? In John’s Gospel we learn that the first step in this transformation process is taken by Jesus; he takes the initiative, he comes to them, meeting them where they are. Jesus doesn’t just break through the “locked doors”, but he breaks the cycle of violence. To those who had denied and abandoned him there is no message of retribution or judgment, but instead, “Peace be with you”. With this gift of peace there also comes a task, the task to forgive others as God forgives us. This is the priority Jesus sets us; to be people of peace and reconciliation in our families, our communities and in our world.

For those first disciples a commitment to peace making, to actively following Jesus’ way of nonviolence, meant they willingly endured the stigma of being called “Christian”. By refusing to fight in the Roman army, or put their trust in war or weapons, they were marked out as followers of Jesus, the Jesus whom the Roman Empire had crucified. Yet they bore this stigma with pride, for having touched and been touched by the stigmata of the risen Christ, they were sent out in the power of the Spirit to show the world that it is through forgiveness,  reconciliation and love, not through violence, war or  retaliation, that true peace is established. The fruit of that peace, we read in Acts, is solidarity and justice.

This Easter as we embrace the gift of Christ’s peace, let us pray that the Spirit will transform us, so that we may willing bear any stigma that being followers of Jesus’ way of nonviolence may bring for the sake of justice and peace.

Katrina Alton is a Sister of St Joseph of Peace and a Pax Christi member from Nottingham. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 12 – Sharing the hardship of the Gospel

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Genesis 12:1-4a | 2 Timothy 1:8b-10 | Matthew 17:1-9

On 18 March, in Bolzano Cathedral, Italy, another ‘Blessed’ will be added to the community of women and men who have witnessed to Gospel nonviolence: Josef Mayr-Nusser, born in the  Austrian Tyrol in 1910. A family man, his faith was informed by the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, a movement in which he showed faithful service, and by his association with the Catholic Action movement. Following the accord between Hitler and Mussolini in 1939, he chose to stay in Italy, unable to associate with Hitler’s project which he deemed incompatible with the Gospel. He was conscripted into the SS in 1944 when South Tyrol came under Nazi control. Unable in conscience to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler, he was arrested, imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death for undermining military morale. He was transported to Dachau where he was to be shot, but with failing health and weakness, he died on 24 February in the cattle wagon transporting him to Dachau.

Almost fifty years earlier, these words were written on the walls of Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, England (used as a prison), by a conscientious objector of the First World War: “Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let  him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” The ‘crucifixion’ was a punishment given to some of these COs in the field in France. They were placed against posts with arms outstretched and wrists tied to cross beams. Here they would stay, in all forms of weather, for hours at a time. [Excerpted from The Way of the Cross: Reflections Drawn from the First World War Conscientious Objectors, a Pax Christi UK publication.]

Timothy’s letter today speaks of ‘sharing the hardship of the Gospel’. We can only hope, looking back at these brave people, that in their harsh sharing, in their witness to peace and Gospel nonviolence, they also experienced the strength that comes from God.

Pat Gaffney is General Secretary of the British section of Pax Christi.

Our Stories

OUR STORY: Pax Christi UK

This is the third installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For March 2017, we’re getting to know Pax Christi UK. This interview was conducted by Marie Just, Pax Christi International communications intern, with Pat Gaffney. Gaffney is the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK.

____________

Marie Just: When and how did Pax Christi UK start? Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring Pax Christi UK into being?

Pat Gaffney: In 1958 a small group started meeting in London to discuss Church teaching on peace and to promote the international routes, which are marches/pilgrimages across Europe, for peace. The objective was to further peace by fostering international friendship. John Geary, a young man who had taken part in Pax Christi International routes in Germany, Italy and France, inspired these activities. The first issue of a news bulletin was published in 1961 and Bruce Kent, then a curate, agreed to act as chaplain. Pax Christi had strong links with London University and most members were under 30 years of age.

New papal teaching on peace contained in the encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) and in documents emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) gave encouragement to Pax Christi’s mission. Issues of contemporary concern which the British group took up included the lack of rights for conscientious objectors in Catholic countries such as Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, and British arms sales to Nigeria, Biafra, and South Africa. Pax Christi emphasised the value of international exchanges with foreign students visiting London and with young people staying in its summer hostels. Joint retreats and conferences were held with PAX, an older Catholic peace group, and in 1971 a single Catholic peace movement was created when PAX and Pax Christi merged.

MJ: What is the structure and who are the people involved in Pax Christi UK?

PG: We are a membership organisation, we have around 1,500 individual and family members and then we have around 1,500 Catholic parishes who support our work financially through our annual Peace Sunday work. We have an Executive Committee who oversee the management and planning work of Pax Christi. This is made up of nine people who are elected at our Annual General Meeting. They serve for around six years and attend meetings five or six times a year.

We have a staff of four in the office, three full-time and one part time. We have an Editor who works on a free-lance basis and we have volunteers who regularly come to the office to help with administrative work and mail-outs.

MJ: What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?

PG: In our campaigning work we are involved in the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty work – representing an on-going commitment to our work on nuclear disarmament. We are part of the Global Days of Action on Military Spending and will be promoting action for April 2017. We are part of Kairos Britain and will be reviewing how best to work in this network and weave in the advocacy opportunities around Israel & Palestine that come from PC International and from the World Week for Peace in Palestine & Israel.

In our nonviolence work, we are deeply involved in and committed to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and will be running workshops/seminars and conferences to promote this work within the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

In our on-going Peace Education work we are committed to running workshops and training days in schools around the country. We are also working with others to produce a new nonviolence resource for schools.

We are also undertaking a strategic review of all of our work to plan for changes that are due to impact on the organisation within the next couple of years.

MJ: How is Pax Christi UK putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?

PG: In our nonviolence work, we are deeply involved in and committed to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and will be running workshops/seminars – we will be offering four this Spring and in the Autumn we will be hosting Maria Stephan and Marie Dennis on a 2 or 3 city speaking tour.

We produced resource materials on the World Peace Day theme which were sent to every parish in the country and we are encouraging parishes to reflect on the theme and practical suggestions for the whole of the year.

We are setting up a theology/spirituality group on nonviolence to help set some direction to this work.

We will be looking to create some new resources later this year – probably visual resources that help people to better understand what nonviolence is about.

MJ: What is the greatest accomplishment of Pax Christi UK during your history?

PG: I don’t think there is just one!

Our promotion of the World Peace Day message, securing a Peace Sunday in the Catholic Church in England and Wales would be one. It is Pax Christi who have faithfully created resources/reached out each year to parishes to promote the theme. In that time we have seen a massive increase in the take-up of resources and also in the financial contributions that parishes make to Pax Christi as a result.

Work undertaken in the 1970s-80s on Northern Ireland. Pax Christi was a key English partner in many cooperative projects. Pax Christi also played a key role in bringing to the attention of the Church the miscarriages of justice at that time – helping to advocate for those wrongly imprisoned.

Work undertaken in 2002 when Pax Christi initiated a petition/project on the Morality and Legality of War with Iraq which attracted national and international attention and support and raised the debate within the Church and beyond about the prospect of war with Iraq.

MJ: Is there any story about Pax Christi UK that stands out for you?

PG: The experiences created around our International gatherings: councils, World Assemblies, Annual General Meetings. When we come together and begin to appreciate that we are a part of a much bigger, richer movement. These encounters are informative, creative, life-giving and give a really human face to the work of Pax Christi around the globe. The solidarity we develop at such gatherings helps to sustain us when we return home.