Interfaith Prayer Breakfast Presentation

Published: May 6, 2022

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor presented the following talk during the 2022 Interfaith Prayer Breakfast in McDonald Hall on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Friday, May 6, 2022. The event was co-sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society of Arkansas and Pulaski County Bar Association. He spoke to the theme: "Peace in Our Families, Peace in Our Communities and Peace in Our World."

Bishop Taylor

Starting in 1967 with Pope Paul VI, the Catholic Church has observed Jan. 1 as a World Day of Prayer for Peace. This is in addition to other initiatives, for instance gatherings of religious leaders at Assisi to pray for peace; Pope Francis’ historic meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi where they signed a joint document on human fraternity in 2019; and his participation in a joint prayer service in the Lutheran cathedral of Lund marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and meetings with Jewish leaders, and so on.

But on Jan. 1 every year, the Holy Father issues a special message inviting all people of whatever religion — or even no religion — to reflect on the important work of building peace: peace in our families, peace in our communities and peace in our world, the very theme of this interfaith prayer breakfast. And one constant theme that appears repeatedly in these annual messages can be summarized in the slogan: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

We experience this in our families and have seen the sad conflicts that inevitably arise when unjust situations are allowed to take root in the life of a family. I count myself very fortunate that my parents were so resolute in making sure that all seven of us brothers and sisters were treated the same. There was no favorite.

You should take comfort in knowing that your role in the legal system can bring peace, so long as you are really working to treat everyone fairly, searching for ways to reconcile differences. “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Or rather, each one of us knew that we were the favorite — you’re not limited to just one favorite. Each of us had access to exactly the same amount of financial assistance for college. We didn’t always get the same amount of attention — love expands to meet the need, my parents opted preferentially for whoever at that time needed them the most — often meaning in effect whoever was acting up the most at the time — but the overriding concern was always to be fair.

Fair even to the one who wasn’t very loveable at the moment. I think all of us have come across bad situations — some of you work in the area of family law and have a long list of horror stories of family disintegration in situations of grave injustice within the life of a family, fights over inheritance, fights over child custody.

You should take comfort in knowing that your role in the legal system can bring peace, so long as you are really working to treat everyone fairly, searching for ways to reconcile differences. “If you want peace, work for justice.”

The same is true when it comes to peace in our communities. Among other things, that is what is at stake in the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m not talking here about the Black Lives Matter organization about which there is controversy, I’m talking about the broader movement which seeks to shed light on deep systemic injustices that African Americans continue to suffer in our society, and there will be no lasting peace in our community until these injustices are addressed.

All lives matter, of course, but as a society we don’t act that way — and that’s the point. This is the subject of a longer talk that I sometimes give, longer than the seven minutes allotted to me today, but if you search the Internet, you can find that talk, as well as many examples of structural problems in law enforcement, employment, health care and education that especially impact Black lives, and to which even well-meaning people are often blind. Here too, “if you want peace, work for justice.”

And finally, peace in our world, a timely topic given the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Catholic teaching traditionally lists four criteria that are almost never met that must be in place for participation in a war to be considered legitimate, namely: 1.) It can only be undertaken in defense against an aggressor bent on inflicting damage that is lasting, grave and certain; 2.) All other means of putting an end to the conflict must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 3.) There must be serious prospect of success against the enemy (and here the Ukrainians have certainly exceeded our expectations); and 4.) The use of arms must not produce evils greater than the evils to be eliminated.

All of this has changed, however, with the advent of the nuclear age. Ever since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is no longer possible to assume that the civilian population will necessarily be spared, nor can we possibly be assured that the anticipated benefit of waging war would remain greater than the expected harm, nor that conventional warfare might not escalate into something far worse.

And then once war has begun, the acts of war: 1.) must not target the civilian population; and 2.) must not target enemy combatants who have surrendered or otherwise no longer present an immediate lethal threat. It is clear that the Russians have violated every one of these criteria. So we’ve got a lot to pray about. And so I would like to close with Pope Francis’ Prayer for Peace issued in connection with this year’s World Day of Prayer for Peace.

Pope Francis’ Prayer for Peace

Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!

We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried ... But our efforts have been in vain.

Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and give us the courage to say: "Never again war!" "With war everything is lost." Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.

Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister. Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace, our trepidation into confident trust, and our quarreling into forgiveness.

Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words "division," "hatred" and "war" be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be "brother," and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam. Amen.