If we want to make peace with others, we first need to be at peace with ourselves.
By John Dear
A few years before his death in 1999, the great Latin American advocate for the poor, Brazil’s Archbishop Dom Helder Camara was speaking at a crowded church in Berkeley, California. He was asked, ” After facing death squads, would-be assassins, corporations oppressing the poor, violent government opposition and even hostile forces within your own church, who is your most difficult opponent?”
Without saying a word, Dom Helder pointed his hand into the air, then slowly arched it around, until it turned on himself, his index finger pointing to his heart. ” I am my own worst enemy” he said, “my most difficult adversary. Here I have the greatest struggle for peace.”
If we want to make peace with others, we first need to be at peace with ourselves. But this can sometimes be as difficult as making peace in the bloodiest of the world’s war zones.
Those who knew Dom Helder Camara and Mahatma Gandhi testify that they radiated a profound personal peace. But such peace came at a great price: a lifelong inner struggle. They knew that to practice peace and non violence, you have to look within.
Peace begins with each of us. It is a process of repeatedly showing mercy to ourselves, forgiving ourselves, befriending ourselves, accepting ourselves and loving ourselves. As we learn to appreciate ourselves and accept God’s gift of peace, we begin to radiate peace and love to others.
This lifelong journey towards inner peace requires regular self-examination and an ongoing process of making peace with ourselves. It means constantly examining the roots of violence within us, weeding out those roots, diffusing the violence that we aim at ourselves and others, and choosing to live in peace.
It means treating ourselves with compassion and kindness. As we practice mercy towards ourselves, we begin to enjoy life more and more and celebrate it as adventure in peace. We turn again and again to the God who created us, and offer sincere thanks. By persistently refraining from violence and hatred and opening up to that spirit of peace and mercy, we live life to the fullest, and help make the world better for others.
But this process of making peace with ourselves can be one of the most difficult challenges we face. The daily challenge is to befriend those demons, embrace our true selves, make friends with ourselves, disarm our hearts, and accept in peace who we are. The deeper we go into our true identities, the more we will realize that each one of us is a unique, yet beloved child of the God of peace. In that truth, we find the strength to live in peace.
(Extracted from “Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action”, by John Dear, who was for many years executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, one of the largest and oldest interfaith peace organisations in the USA. He is the author of several books).