Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), a Jesuit priest-poet, was one of the great religious poets of the 19th century. In his poem “Peace,” he wrote: “piecemeal peace is poor peace.” Piecemeal means a little at a time, bit by bit, gradually, slowly. Who would want that type of peace? Deep down we want the fullness of peace, a pure peace, a peace in which all of our relationships are healthy and whole.
The risen Lord said to the disciples (and to us): “Peace be with you.” The fact of the matter: the disciples were not at peace. With the Good Friday event, their relationship with Jesus changed. There was betrayal, denial and running away. Only John remained faithful. An absence of peace brought interior distress.
In our lives we too struggle to live at peace with members of our family, with the larger community, and indeed with our self. Relationships are complex and often scarred. Maybe piecemeal peace is the norm though we desire pure peace, a peace without stain or defilement.
So what can we do this Easter season to make peace less piecemeal? St. John XXIII, in his powerful encyclical Pacem in Terris, claimed that peace has four essential components: truth, charity, freedom, and justice. Peace is wounded if not destroyed when any of these elements are missing in our relationships. So how do we become instruments of God’s peace?
Tell the truth! No more lies; no more exaggerations or coloring of facts; yes, no more gossip which, although factual (“true”) need not be said. There is a banner that reads: “Before you speak: is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” We live in a culture that is hostile to truth. But in Jesus’ day, old Pilate set the soil for doubt. “What is truth?”
Love one another! Peace demands charity and love for everyone we meet. Abbot Bernard Pennings, the first Abbot of St. Norbert Abbey, had as his motto Diligamus invicem – “Let us love one another.” No love, no peace. The love we speak of is about respect and responsibility, about concern and generosity.
Foster freedom! We are not as free as we think. Addictions abound, be they drugs, tobacco, alcohol, racism, sexism, etc. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want. Freedom is doing what we ought to do, following the will of God. Sin enslaves; addictions paralyze; vices put us in moral prison.
Do justice! Justice is about protecting and promoting of rights; justice is about doing our duty. Peace is shattered when the dignity of human life is denied, when human trafficking is rampant, when so many are denied education and shelter. When we are agents of justice we are fulfilling the beatitude that calls us to be peacemakers.
Yes, “piecemeal peace is poor peace.” Hopefully our response to be disciples of Jesus and good stewards of God’s gifts will further the peace that Jesus wishes for us.
Bishop Morneau, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Green Bay Diocese, serves as sacramental minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Green Bay.