Dr. William Willimon writes that on the eve of the 20th century, diplomats from the leading governments of the world gathered together in The Hague for what was called the First International Peace Conference. It was held not to conclude a war or to settle conflicts, but to focus on building a world of lasting peace. It dealt with issues of disarmament, international law and dispute settlement. A second conference was held there in 1907. The third one, however, was cancelled. WWI had begun and prevented any kind of meeting together to discuss world peace. Sadly, the century that followed the war to end all wars was the bloodiest in history. During the twentieth century over 93 million people were killed in wars around the world.
So, in May 1999, the world finally got back together for a third peace conference in The Hague. Over ten thousand people met for a week in the Netherlands to again discuss permanent peace. The sad irony is that even the villains of the 20th century had been in favor of peace. Yes, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Slobodon Milosovic all wanted peace – but on their own terms! And as such, the world has continued to struggle to find real and lasting peace.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his book on Advent and Christmas that no one in the world suspected that the Ancient of Days who presided at creation would take his throne in that creation as a babe in a crib; just as no one ever thought that he would tell old men like Nicodemus that they must be born again; and as I would add, the world continues to miss the gist of the good news that the angels brought the night of Jesus’ birth – peace cannot be somehow created within us or between us … it must come from outside of us as a gift. For we who have been given such a precious gift (Romans 5:1) the question is this: Are we sharing it, especially now during a very difficult pandemic at the close of a very divisive year in our country?
May the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi become our prayer as well:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.