I am a fan of public television. However, I doubt I could be classified “avid” even by the ordinary viewers in this category. Sometimes I only watch a single episode out of a series. This was true when I saw the first episode of “UBX” on Masterpiece Theater. After that, I surmised the series continued to present individual adventures of a special task force delegated to locate unexploded bombs (“UBX” to the uninitiated) dropped by England’s enemy during World War II. After the bombs were found came the dangerous task of rendering them harmless so that the people in that area could move about safely in the streets once more. Needless to say, the episode I watched had its suspense-filled moments, especially for a young man who was a novice at the procedures involved.
Today we find real-life counterparts of this type of tension among those who wish to increase the arms race and those who prefer to halt it; among those who want to build nuclear power plants and those who do not. We experience the fears of those who proclaim the horrors of war—to which the arms race can only lead—and, on the other hand, the fears of those who find it dangerous to make ourselves weak in the face of a “formidable enemy.” Even those who want to call a halt to the arms race and those who want all nuclear power plants closed are beginning to see the complexity involved in efforts to undo what has already been done to “defuse” these situations. Citizens’ complaints about the hazards of nuclear waste continue to fill our daily newspapers and the mistakes that have occurred at experimental military installations and certain nuclear power plants have made headline news.
In short, the works of peace are complicated and require endless patience. However, these problems are by no means limited to our external environment. They are duplicated, together with all their accompanying complications and tensions, within the individual lives of all of us as we wage combat with our own inner demons. The testing ground often proves to be in our relationships with others. To let down our defenses before others, particularly those whom we view as enemies—perhaps not entirely without reason because of past experiences—is a very scary proposition. We do not want to stand “disarmed” before them, so to speak. All our defense mechanisms come into play, some of which have been stored in silos of our underground hearts for many years. If we let down these defenses, others may wonder what we are “up to.” This engenders further suspicion and defensiveness, though it could create a stir of curiosity in some. Because the psychological problems of deliberately making ourselves weak, of rendering ourselves defenseless, might have such uncertain repercussions, it becomes a very hazardous route to take.
If we do decide to take the risk of putting down our swords and spears, other hazards may appear on the scene. Old angers can arise and spoil a situation, a common mistake in this inner war. Or sometimes our arms weapons can misfire and hurt others or ourselves once again. This, in turn, reduces the possibility of taking further risks and so on. Our efforts at peacemaking then become, as it were, harmful or useless waste material. But, of course, other eventualities are also possible. A little bit of curiosity combined with good will could provide us with the joy of having our enemies finding us utterly disarming. In this case the battle is won by both sides. To put it another way, as Jesus said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).
—Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB
Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.
Read all Sister Mary E.’s reflections.