To the Creator of nature and humankind, of truth and beauty, I pray:
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence among individuals and nations.
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.
Hear my voice when I beg You to instill into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice, and the joy of fellowship.
Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.
Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice and grant unto the world Your everlasting peace.
“The root of all war is fear,” the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote. This line has echoes in St. John Paul II’s prayer for peace, as he calls upon the Creator of all to give us strength to overcome the fear that leads so many in our world to put “their faith in weapons and war.”
And yet, as Merton and John Paul II would attest, it is more than battle lines and firearms that define war. Violence, division, hatred—these evils arise from the seed of fear planted in our hearts, nurtured by our self-interest, and harvested by a worldly logic that says “you come first” and “each one for themselves.” I may not shoot, stab, or bomb another person, but in so many ways I find myself nourishing that seed of fear with my self-righteousness and disregard for others such that, as Pope Francis often says, my conscience grows numb and my heart cold to the concerns and needs of others.
Even our everyday language is filled with the violent imagery of war: war on terror, war on drugs, war on poverty, and so on. But something about this way of speaking and thinking doesn’t sit comfortably alongside a faith that believes in a God who enters our world as the Prince of Peace.
If we saw the suffering and inequity that lead desperate individuals to acts of terror, we would respond with God’s commandment to love. Instead, we declare a war on terror and bomb strangers from drones.
If we saw the agony and illness of addiction that drives the drug trade, we would respond with appropriate support and care. Instead, we declare a war on drugs and put more of the vulnerable in prison.
If we saw the systems of injustice and oppression that lead to poverty, we would respond by working to reform these structures of evil. Instead, we declare a war on poverty and blame victims who never had a chance, proclaiming from our positions of comfort that they should simply “get a job.”
Indeed, the root of all war is fear. But if we wish to aid God in answering St. John Paul II’s prayer, we must begin by acknowledging the fear in our own hearts and allow God’s peace, which the world cannot give, to take root instead.
Daniel P. Horan, OFM, is a Franciscan friar and the author of several books, including God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude. His website is DanHoran.com.