Peace and Security


A few years ago, I toured northern England.  There, stretching 73 miles from coast to coast, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a massive wall.  Constructed of stone, it was built to last, since it marked the northernmost boundary of the greatest empire the world had ever known.  Soldiers from every corner of the world were garrisoned there, and excavations tell the fascinating story of their lives and deaths.

Roman civilization was nearly 1,000 years old by the time the wall was built, and it must have seemed that Rome would indeed last forever.

Soldiers manned the wall continuously for 200 years after its construction.  But the empire did not last forever.  It collapsed, and Hadrian’s wall became a quarry used by the local people scavenging for building materials.

Historians spill lots of ink debating why Roman civilization fell to roving bands of barbarians.  But when you get right down to it, the answer is in the Bible (see this Sunday’s readings–Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matthew 21:33-43).  Rome fell for the same reason that the Kingdom of Israel fell in 722BC and Judah was exiled to Bablyon in 587BC.  Divine Providence had blessed all three societies.  But he had also called them all to account, and found them wanting.  God had planted them as choice vines, but these civilizations had yielded sour grapes.  Idolatry, adultery, and social injustice were some of the fruits they produced before their collapse.  And how about the people of Jericho?  Why did their walls come tumbling down?  Could their practices of child sacrifice and ritual prostitution have had anything to do with it?

That was then.  How about now?  America was founded in large part by those seeking to make it “a city on a hill.”  Its motto was “in God we trust.”  Now judges rule that we can retain this motto without offending atheists because we really don’t mean it.  America once exported democracy.  Now it exports “Desperate Housewives” and “Jersey Shore.”  When I travel around the world and tell people that I’m from Dallas, their faces light up.  Even if they can’t speak English, they manage to smile and exclaim “J.R.!”

Many assume America will last forever.  But there were soldiers manning Hadrian’s wall for more years than the United States has existed as a nation.  We are not invulnerable, as September 11 reminded us.  If we continue to yield sour grapes, our walls too will come tumbling down.

So what are we to do?  Perhaps instead of killing the prophets, we ought to listen to them.  Maybe we can begin honoring God rather than exiling him, respecting marital fidelity rather than ridiculing it, protecting the unborn rather than protecting their “terminatators,” and caring for the poor rather than abandoning them.

And maybe we can follow the advice of St. Paul (Phil 4:6-9) and renounce the anxiety that makes us miserable and causes us to conclude that we must “take care of ourselves” rather than do things God’s way.  Perhaps if we thank God for blessings and even trials, presenting our needs to Him in faith, we’ll see a change in our mood and even a change in our world.   And maybe if we fill our minds with the splendor of truth rather than with the trash of “Desperate Housewives” we might just notice more joy and serenity in our lives.

Have you ever seen a more frantic society than ours?  We eat, drink, and breathe tension.

Yet St. Paul speaks of a “peace that passes all understanding.”  It’s a peace that does not go away even when planes strike towers and hurricanes swell rivers.  It starts in the inside but has impact on the outside.  Without it, Mother Teresa could have never lasted in the chaos of Calcutta and John Paul the Great could have never made his way through Nazi tanks and Communist oppression to occupy the chair of Peter.

This peace indeed defies comprehension.  But it’s ours for the asking.


About Author

Grew up in Providence RI. BA at Providence college, Ph.D. in historical theology from Catholic University of America. Former professional musician and theology professor at Loyola College in Maryland and the University of Dallas. Currently owner of Wellness Business Ventures LLC and director of Father of five.

  • Theodore Kobernick

    Thank you for a wonderful contribution. Everything you say is right.

    For at least thirty years, my view of god’s blessings — such as peace — is that God can tender it to us, but for us to receive and enjoy that blessing, we must do two things: we must grab onto that blessing and refuse to give it up; and we must accept the condition that God has made an integral part of his blessings — that we live according to the will of God.

    You mention some of the wretched TV programs. A couple of years ago, a friend, a Christian father of two girls, told Paula and me that he and his wife had gotten rid of their TV cable service, and that they no longer watched TV. Their reasoning was that they would have almost no likelihood of raising their daughters as Christians, with Christian virtues, if the TV was in their home.

    Paula and I discussed this, and prayed about it. We immediately realized that if someone came into our home and behaved and spoke as they do on TV, we would show that person the door! For years we had deplored the use of sex and ultra-violence on the TV, the materialism which the TV vigorously promotes, but were foolishly telling ourselves that we could ignore all that. But as we prayed, we realized that even the “news” programs were designed to upset us. They loved the word “controversial”, and applied it where they themselves were the source of controversy. After all, didn’t someone write, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8)?

    So we did what Chris and Rachel did — cancelled our TV service. Not only did we save a few dollars, but we also took stress out of our lives.

    Last Sunday, I was amazed to hear a substitute preacher speak on stress, and twice cited the stress gotten from his watching TV. After the service, I suggested that he lessen the stress in his life by getting rid of the TV. He didn’t seem interested in doing it. How dare we ask for and claim the peace of the Lord, when we work against having that peace?

    As you might expect, people tell me there are good programs to be found on the TV. I don’t doubt it. Perhaps there is a diamond ring to be found in the garbage dump. But if I wanted a diamond, I’d go to the jeweler, rather than root around in garbage.

    When we kicked the TV out of our home, we had more time to read, pray, and watch DVD movies. Almost everyone should give this a try.

  • I ditched cable TV long ago. I keep an antenna for the occasional natural disaster that makes me want to watch the news. If you like DVDs, I recommend the Roku box, a $60 gizmo that lets you connect to Netflix ($8 a month). They have lots of family-friendly movies and old TV shows, created in simpler times. Watching Andy Griffith, it’s really astonishing how far we’ve fallen in less than 50 years. Heck, even Sam Malone of Cheers looks like a moral titan compared with today’s “heroes.”

  • W2LJ

    I haven’t watched “Mainstream” TV in years. When I do watch (not very often) it’s usually Discovery, the Science or History channels. Oh, and of course, EWTN and whatever other Catholic programming I can find.

  • John Keble, “United States,” (1836)

    Tyre of the farther West! Be thou too warn’d
    Whose eagle wings thine own green world o’erspread,
    Touching two Oceans: wherefore has thou scorn’d
    Thy fathers’ God, O proud and full of bread?

    … Tyre mock’d when Salem fell; where now is Tyre?
    Heaven was against her. Nations thick as waves,
    Burst o’er her walls, to Ocean doom’d and fire:
    And now the tideless water idly laves
    Her towers, and lone sands heap her crowned merchants’ graves.

    Rev. Keble, professor of poetry at Oxford, initiated the Oxford movement of spiritual renewal in the Anglican Church.