“Under the peculiarly modern coercions, such as Compulsory Education and Conscription, there are such very large peaceful areas, that they can all agree upon War. In [the Middle Ages] men disagreed even about war; and peace might break out anywhere.”
-G.K. Chesterton, in Saint Thomas Aquinas
War is big business in 2015. No, I do not mean the military-industrial complex. No, I do not mean just the arms trade. I mean the war that plays out in imagination, consciousness and conversation.
I mean the media ratings that skyrocket at the stirring up of political arguments that play on fear and discontent. The great cogs of our democratic institutions grind inexorably toward conflict with terrorism, Islam, Republicans, Democrats, political activists, the political establishment and more. We are at war with ourselves.
The prophet Isaiah promised the ancient Hebrew people peace after trial and exile. His message of ultimate protection contradicted the condemnation and saber-rattling between rival nations. Are we too busy for these words of hope, sharpening our swords, discarding facts and reason, and rushing headlong at each other’s throats?
Our big business of war taxes health, relationships and community. On the political right and left, we cling to our beliefs into either an echo chamber with those whom we agree, or a stalemate with those whom we do not.
This Christmas, try the opposite tack. Fall on your knees with humility and open your heart with total charity. This heart of giving is both independent and transcendent of personal squabbles:
Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such.
-Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est
Compassion advances the peace and dignity of each individual. Love is not a show of arms but a quiet retreat into the worth of all created things. The necessity of love is the fountainhead of the meaning of Christmas:
With love comes anticipation. Rather than be filled with self-satisfaction, we learn to wait for the fulfillment of the good and beautiful around us. We are patient as the farmer who plants seed and waits through the winter for the shoot to come from the cold ground. The silent and watchful world hopes for the daystar to rise after the long night of despair.
With love comes truth. Rather than assume rectitude we test, listen and examine. We read the signs. We learn the hearts of others. We see the surpassing beauty and equality of all people, blossoming quietly amid the clamor of judgment and pain that divide us.
With love comes mercy. Just when we have raised our weapons to strike the fatal blow that would finish our heroic vendettas against our enemies, we learn at Christmas of true mercy. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“[It is] one who enters a world of sin and death, who takes upon himself all the sorrows of humanity, who meekly bears God’s wrath and judgment against sinners, and obeys his will with unswerving devotion in suffering and death, the Man born to poverty, the friend of publicans and sinners, the Man of sorrows, rejected of man and forsaken of God. Here is God made man.”