The other day there was an anti-war demonstration just a few blocks from our Priests for Life headquarters. I decided to stop by and to meet the organizers and participants. They were, as you might imagine, peace-loving people.
Except for one.
As I was about to leave, a big man started yelling at me. "I know who you are! You support anti-abortion terrorists!"
I waited for him to ask something like, "Isn't that true?", but he didn't ask anything. He just told, in convinced, absolute, and dogmatic terms. After all, he had read "a study" about me and Priests for Life that had even been "posted on the Internet." (Well, of course, that settles it!)
I began telling this man in calm terms that for many years I have issued statements on non-violence, and that while I am absolutely opposed to abortion, I have never condoned the use of violence as a means to end abortion. The same "internet" that carries the study he read carries my statements against violence.
"You're a liar," was his response.
Not only did he not ask for dialogue, but when I volunteered it, he claimed that I was lying.
So I finally pointed out the contradiction. "Sir," I said, "you are here with this group that opposes war. Do you know what the alternative to war is? It's dialogue. On the other hand, when people reject dialogue, and when they stop listening to their opponent and, without evidence, call the opponent a liar, then the groundwork for war is being laid. You do not have an attitude of peace."
Some others in the group apologized for the man's behavior, and he just stood there in an angry silence.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. When we hear the words of this familiar song, we may ask ourselves how peace can begin with us, personally and individually. It begins by listening. It begins by giving the other person -- especially the adversary -- the benefit of the doubt. It begins when we stop coming to conclusions so quickly about each other. It begins when we refuse to talk about a person without first talking to that person and giving that person an opportunity to let us know and understand him or her.
As the leader of a prominent organization, I have learned the single greatest obstacle to collaboration and unity between organizations and within the Church: careless, rash judgment. I also call it "snapshot" judgment. We hear or read something about a group or person -- and then think we know it all. That "snapshot" of that group or person is emblazoned on our mind forever. We don't let it change, and we don't let ourselves learn more. We don't let the person or group introduce themselves, nor do we explain our concerns to them and ask them for clarification. All that is work, and we find it too inconvenient.
Yet that is the burden of peace.