Peace, or a lack thereof, seems to be a prevalent theme in our country and world today. We are polarized on every issue we are facing as a society and are well aware of the spiritual forces seeking to promote discord and animosity among us. We constantly pray for peace: peace in our families, peace in our Church, peace in our country, and peace in the world. However, it is not enough to simply pray for peace, rather, we must actively pursue it by our own actions.
On January 1, 2005, shortly before his death, Pope St. John Paul II gave an address on the World Day of Peace that was inspired by St. Paul’s words to the Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” It is not possible for evil to overcome evil. In fact, evil only begets more evil. As a result, when an individual chooses evil, he will be overtaken by it. The great saint goes on to say that the fundamental truth is that “peace is the outcome of a long and demanding battle which is only won when evil is defeated by good” (#1). Note that he refers to it as “a long and demanding battle.” Due to the nature of evil, peace cannot be achieved in an instant. Satan is constantly trying to destroy our peace and he certainly will not let up simply because we desire it. We must intentionally and consistently engage in the battle of good versus evil.
St. John Paul II reminds us that evil is the result of human freedom. God wants us to love Him freely and not by force, so His greatest gift to us was the gift of free will. As we go about our day, we make a succession of choices that lead us toward God or away from Him, which also result in consequences for the world around us. “Evil always has a name and a face: the name and face of those men and women who freely choose it” (#2).
Now of course, most of us do not want to think of ourselves as the face of evil, particularly because the word itself is such a strong one. When we think of evil, we tend to think of the Hitlers of the world but often overlook our own poor daily choices. However, John Paul clarifies what evil actually is: “At its deepest level, evil is a tragic rejection of the demands of love. Moral good, on the other hand is born of love, shows itself as love and is directed towards love” (#2). Using this definition, we certainly can all recall occasions when we rejected the demands of love and chose self over the other. When this occurs, there cannot be peace.
As we make daily choices, particularly in interacting with others, we each must ask ourselves if our choice promotes the good of the other individual. Does the choice respect the inherent dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God? Or does the choice serve only our own self with little regard for how it might affect others? Remember that, very often, our choices have a ripple effect that extends beyond a single person with whom we might be interacting. “Fostering peace by overcoming evil with good requires careful reflection on the common good…When the common good is promoted at every level, peace is promoted” (Ibid #5). We are bound together as the mystical body of Christ and we must choose the good for the whole body, rather than just the part of the body that we personally represent, so that there is unity and harmony in the body, rather than division and discord.
As always, the pope ends his message with Christian hope. He says, “…Christians confess with humble trust that God alone can enable individuals and people to overcome evil and achieve good” (#11). Peace is a concept that certainly applies to large scale issues, but the pope emphasizes that the pursuit of peace begins on an individual level by entrusting ourselves to God’s assistance. Additionally, we, as Christians, know that the victory over evil has already been won by Christ’s death and resurrection (#11). Despite the daily evils we both commit and encounter, in the end, evil will not prevail. This certainty provides us the hope we need to sustain us on the “long and demanding battle” John Paul referenced at the start of his message. You have no doubt heard the saying, “The battle has already been won” and that gives us the hope and assurance that when we get to heaven, we will finally experience perfect peace.
John Paul implores us to cooperate with God “in the triumph of good” (#11). He says,
No man or woman of good will can renounce the struggle to overcome evil with good. This fight can be fought effectively only with the weapons of love. When good overcomes evil, love prevails and where love prevails, there peace prevails. (#12)
Think of a situation which causes you to lack peace. Are politics dividing your family? Are you concerned about the state of the Church? Do you have a particular struggle with your spouse? What weapons of love might help the situation? Sometimes it might be a kind word or embrace. Perhaps it begins with an act of forgiveness. Sometimes it is just too big and all we can do is pray, remembering that praying for one’s enemies is, in and of itself, an act of love, as it shows concern for their ultimate good. Strive to overcome evil with good in every choice you make in order to promote peace.