Part 15 in a Series on JustFaith:
Culturing Peace

By Stephanie Block

This has been mentioned before but is worth repeating: this critique can address only a portion of the JustFaith social justice education program. A number of materials JustFaith uses haven’t been included in the critique – such as the video shown during week 24, “A Force More Powerful.” Some JustFaith discussion topics have not been examined – for example, week 22’s discussion about Cardinal Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life.” Including every scrap of the JustFaith materials and discussion topics would be thorough but redundant… and none of them temper the concerns raised by the critique.

With that in mind, we move to a consideration of week 25. The first half of the session is an “act, reflect, transform” activity. In the second half, participants discuss the text of a talk given by JustFaith founder Jack Jezreel at the Pax Christi National Assembly in 2007. Pax Christi, it must be noted, is a Call to Action “church renewal” organization – Call to Action (CTA) being a coalition that, collectively, has worked for radical changes in the Catholic Church’s structure and teaching since the 1970s. Pax Christi USA’s particular contribution to the CTA movement has been the relentless pollution of Church materials and programs with liberation theology. ...and, it is one of JustFaith’s “partners,” along with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, Bread for the World, and Maryknoll.

This isn’t how Pax Christi is presented to JustFaith participants, however. The suggested introduction explains Pax Christi’s goals as “work to create a world that reflects the Peace of Christ.” [i] JustFaith participants are further told that there are “local chapters around the country that meet regularly to pray, study, and take action to promote peacemaking” and given information about how to contact a local Pax Christi group. And the discussion about Jezreel’s talk end with the question “How might forming a Pax Christi study group at your parish enhance your efforts to promote peace in your community?”[ii]

The talk JustFaith participants have read in preparation for session 25 begins with a tribute to Pax Christi. To Jezreel, it is “an important and wonderful mix of the prophetic and the pastoral. .. a movement whose work has been both challenging for and respectful toward the larger church; you have not only critiqued the powers that be of all kinds, but you have sought to craft bridges so that critique can be accompanied by new possibilities.”[iii]

After some preliminary remarks, Jezreel introduces his JustFaith program. Along with information about how it works on a practical level, Jezreel explains that JustFaith is “designed to be a process that is AS dedicated to the transformation of the self as it is about the transformation of the world, understanding that those two things are integrally linked.” Accomplishing this transformation of self and world is “the Reign of God,” which we learn later in the talk is the vision and focus of Jesus’ teaching and “this reign of God is the reign of service, justice, generosity, compassion, peacemaking. Jesus calls disciples to THIS vision. Is it fair to say that Jesus did not call disciples to follow him for the purpose of idolizing or honoring him. Rather, the reason to follow him is that he is pointing toward a new possibility, as described in this vision of the Reign of God.”

The liberationist perspective places the burden of creating this “Reign of God” on the shoulders of Jesus’ disciples and envisions it as an earthly utopia. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, describes the “Reign of God” (the Kingdom of God) as fulfilled by “God’s triumph over the revolt of evil” which “will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.”[iv] These are two, very different “visions.”

The heart of Jezreel’s talk is to examine the elements – the “six ingredients” – that he believes are essential “for the church [sic] to be a potent agent of peace with justice.” The first, he says, is that “the Church must always be deliberate about its relationships with those who are at risk in the world. Catholic social teaching describes this, in part, as the ‘option for the poor and vulnerable’ and as ‘solidarity’.”

To Jezreel, this means “authentic compassion,” knowing what needs to be done in this world because we are “seeing the world through the lens of those who see it from the bottom.

"There will be no justice without kinship. There will be no peace without kinship. …The reign of God is critically relational. We must be connected in real life in real time, in kairos time….our work for peace must be linked integrally with the experience of those on the bottom. Only when they know peace will peace be. As long as poverty is, violence will be.”

This is a complicated thought. The kernel of truth it holds is that, yes, the Christian is called to “authentic compassion,” one that understands and is responsive to the genuine needs of others. Jezreel also is saying, rightly, that it is important for Christians to move out among “the poor,” understanding that “poverty” takes many forms.

“The second critical ingredient, which flows out of the first, is what we sometimes call justice education or peace education.” This is the point at which Jezreel develops his theories about the “Reign of God” and distorts Jesus’ teachings. Any “justice education or peace education” that is based on a distortion rather than on what Jesus himself meant (and the Church explains what Jesus meant, if anyone is unclear about it) will necessarily form people badly. It will train them to give an (ultimately) unhelpful response to the “poor” – to those with pressing needs. Therefore, no matter how compassionate we may be or how deeply aware of the problems others face, it is a matter of serious concern that educated to give the poor bread rather than stones.

Jezreel’s third ingredient “necessary for a culture of peace” is that “we must learn a new lifestyle, a simpler lifestyle.” This almost sounds like a traditional call to “embrace Lady Poverty” until he adds, “The call to a simpler lifestyle is partially prompted by the observation that the world is at war because parts of the world are literally sucking the life out of the other parts, like the Death Eater characters out of a Harry Potter novel. The history of exploitation is the history of war. Our lifestyles require the plunder of the earth, require the cheap labor of other places, require the poverty of others. Our lifestyles require a war in Iraq. There is no other way to put it. For us to live as we live in this country, we need to dominate others so that they can not use the limited resources that we want.” The third ingredient, therefore, is really about a political way of looking at the world – not a Christian way – with all the ramifications such a perspective brings.

The fourth ingredient for culturing peace is that “we must pray. We must learn to pray. We must take the time to pray.” While this is, of course, absolute truth, the liberationist puts this good at the service of his own agenda: “The often unpublicized experience of those who pray is that prayer that can help us to connect with the poor with open eyes and hearts. It is prayer that can allow us to educate with patience, love and understanding. It is prayer that can enable us to move to a simpler lifestyle.”

One reads the above in the light of some of the communal prayers offered during JustFaith sessions: “May those who cry out for justice move us to stand with them and, in solidarity, share in their suffering, aware that prophecy leads to persecution and justice leads to the cross.”[v] Who is the object of this “prayer?” Who is addressed? Who has what the suppliant seeks? Not God, evidently, but the suffering ones.

Prayer to God is essential. Prayer to anything else is idolatry…or, perhaps, merely useful, a tool of indoctrination to bring the soul into better compliance with the desired transformed self.

Week 25 “prayers” have other problems. The symbols of a crucifix and barbed wire, or perhaps a thorny branch, are held up and introduced, followed by the confusing “We, who are witnesses of God’s loving-justice in a violent and divided world, see in the crucifix a symbol of solidarity…” Wait, wait, wait! This is a Catholic formation, containing a prayer to be said among Catholics who have much more to offer fellow sinners and sufferers than a “symbol of solidarity.” How about the fact of salvation? Now, there’s some good news.

Unless, of course, the religion being expressed isn’t Christianity but liberationism. A “sign of God’s peace” in which we “share in the peace for which our world hungers” sounds promising if it’s Jesus’ peace. If it’s an affirmation of “one another for the journey ahead,”[vi] however, as the JustFaith program claims, a very rich Catholic liturgical gesture has been reinterpreted to mean something secular and far less potent.

Jezreel glosses over the fifth ingredient, a commitment to nonviolence, because he knows that his Pax Christi audience is already committed to non-violent action (and the JustFaith participants covered this topic in detail, during prior sessions), and moves to “the sixth and most often unacknowledged ingredient of effective peacemaking is community.” By this, he means, “a community that involves very intentional commitments, including those I have mentioned so far: engagement with those on the margins, peace and justice education or formation, simplicity, prayer, and peacemaking.”

Like so many other thoughts in this talk, there are Christian ways these words could be understood and there is the more complicated way that Jezreel means them. He describes the sorts of communities he has in mind, the “medium(s) in which so many other important things of the Gospel can happen,” “engine(s) for peace,” “fuel for justice.” He’d like to see parishes that were really engaged in the welfare of their communities, an entirely laudable exhortation, until one hears that includes “diocesan-sponsored Pax Christi peace academies in every diocese” and “peace newspapers,” “peace T.V. networks,” “peacemaking high schools – magnet Catholic high schools for those interested in studying Catholic social teaching, peacemaking strategies and liberating lifestyles,” and “annual peacemaking awards in every parish and in every diocese, and that the event is the biggest banquet on the church calendar.” This isn’t God-centered peace…and without that center, there will be no earthly peace, either.

Spero columnist Stephanie Block is also the editor of the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper.

[i] JustFaith –Catholic Version 2011-2012, week 25 session, facilitators’ materials, p 5.
[ii] Week 25 facilitators’ materials… p 6.
[iii] Unless otherwise identified, all quotes will be taken from the text of Jack Jezreel’s address “Culturing Peace: With Justice, With Prayer, With Each Other, Without Weapons,” Pax Christi National Assembly, Seattle University, August 10, 2007. This talk is the featured reading material used for discussion in the week 25 session of JustFaith –Catholic Version 2011-2012.
[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 677.
[v] Week 25 facilitators’ materials… p 6 (closing prayer).
[vi] Week 25 facilitators’ materials… p 6 (closing prayer).

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