In our second reading for today from the letter of St. James I hear frustration when he writes: “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” I find myself looking at the political conflicts in our country and wanting to knock heads together! (Not the non-violent response I should take).
For James, conflicts within the community come because people want what they don’t have, and they let their envy and greed get the best of them. For me, it isn’t much of a stretch to extrapolate this to groups of people and to nations in the way they relate to each other.
In fact, we see this played out in our Gospel reading from Mark. Soon after Jesus has predicted His Passion again, the apostles argue about which of them is the greatest. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them about discipleship and the kingdom: “if anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He then takes a child, and putting His arms around the child, says to them: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
When I think about Jesus presenting a child to the apostles to help them understand whom they should serve, I think about what makes the abuse scandal in the Church so maddening and disheartening to people. The well-being of children is also at the heart of the immigration debate, the gun violence debate, the conflict about education and the debate about abortion. It is even at the heart about the debates we have about the environment as we look to what kind of a world we are going to leave our children and our grandchildren.
My hope for the Church is that the real changes that are necessary to be made, which would require a change in the “corporate culture,” so to speak, will be made.
But as far as the political debates are concerned, perhaps we could consider what kind of world are we leaving our children. In many ways, these debates can often devolve into contests to show who is the greatest, and the objects of our concern can actually be lost. Is the lesson we want to give our children that the only thing that matters is if you win against the other person? And it doesn’t really matter how?
In that letter of St. James, he writes: “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”
Is it more important to cultivate peace or to prove that I or we are the greatest? By peace I do not mean, following Pope Paul VI and Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others, the mere absence of conflict, but the true peace that comes from justice. I believe Jesus would advocate cultivating peace. And I think working for justice and peace is a much better lesson we can give to our children as we strive to take care of them and show them the way.
There must be a way for people of good will to come together, forego trying to show they are the greatest, and work for justice that leads to peace and a better world for our children. May we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.