I have a problem.

Background: For as long as I can remember, I have hated war, believing that a world at peace would be Walden, Shangri-La, Utopia all rolled into one. If we could eliminate war, our world would be what it is supposed to be. Growing up through WWII had much to do with that mindset, no doubt. My faith, seminary years and time as a priest gave me words to name the peace I sought for the world. My doctoral dissertation focused on the Catholic anti-war movement in the U.S. My career as a marriage/family therapist afforded me the good feeling of helping others make or find peace for themselves and those they loved. And in these pages peace has been a frequent theme. Presently, I tend to close many of my e-mails with “Peace – within and all about.”

So, what is my problem?

In short, I feel like I have been missing the boat.

Peace really is not the issue. As much as the world and people like me cry out for it, peace is not what we should be about. Perhaps we pray, beg and work for it because no one can comfortably argue against or oppose the cause. Who in their right mind can be against peace? Political and religious voices, journalists, poets and dreamers constantly use the concept of peace to their own advantage. Nothing wrong with that, but have they like me been missing the real issue?

Peace (it hurts to say it) is poetry; it makes for lovely feelings and for lyrics of lovely songs.  As a cause, peace gives purpose and meaning to all who espouse it. But how many of those who do so come to know they have been missing the point? They are sitting in the cart, not hearing the horse behind it neighing. (Should that read “nay-ing?”)

True peace, I now believe, can not and will not happen without justice. Think about that and watch the lights come on, in an instant or perhaps by rheostat. Is that the lesson in all that is happening in Egypt and the Middle East? The world clearly has to have justice before it can know true peace. That holds true for individuals as well. How could I, for almost a lifetime, have missed something so obvious? Is that because the cause for justice is a battleground and I, a believer in and seeker of peace, simply did not go there?

 Justice is the prose of living. It is at the heart of the ugly, gritty struggles that the differences among us, whether of nations or individuals, create. It is not a feel-good issue like peace; justice has too many self-serving definitions. Those who seek justice have to be, by nature, fighters. They may believe in peace, but they know in their souls peace can never be had without justice.

The difference between peace and justice is like that between a candy store and a coal mine. I am embarrassed that at my age there is so little coal dust under my fingernails. In saying that, in no way do I mean to diminish or disparage the efforts of peace activists in the world today or throughout history. To them I may be quibbling over language and nothing more – quite understandably if peace in their minds is a synonym for justice. Sadly, until recently it has not be so in mine.

           to be continued next time…