There is a terrible irony in the fact that this morning the war of words between the two Koreas has escalated. It is no longer just a matter of rhetoric or small arms fire: there has been an artillery exchange and North Korea has been placed on a war footing. It is said that St Pius X died of a broken heart at the outbreak of World War I, and there is surely something in that memory we could all usefully think about.
We tend to think of Piux X in connection with the liturgy or the reform of canon law. Some will reflect on his efforts to improve clergy training and discipline while those of us who love Gregorian chant honour him for having fostered its revival. Scripture scholars probably think more of his foundation of an institute for scriptural studies or his inauguration of a revision of the Latin text of the Bible (the Vulgate). Others again will dwell on his separation of Church and State and his vehement opposition to political organizations laying claim to religious sanction. But I wonder how many will remember those homilies he preached Sunday by Sunday in the courtyards of the Vatican on his favourite theme: the restoration of all things in Christ and the ushering in of peace on earth.
Peace is more than the absence of war, but it has to begin with a cessation of hostilities. While the world looks on aghast at the atrocities of IS or worries about what might happen in the Korean Peninsula, there is a challenge all of us, without exception, need to accept. For there to be peace in the world, there must first be peace in ourselves. Unless we are prepared to lay aside old grievances, face up to old injustices, admit misunderstandings and the mistrust born of them, how can we realistically expect any change in others? It may sound idealistic, even naive; but perhaps if a few more people had been prepared to be reckoned simpletons, the tragic slaughter of World War I could have been avoided. We may be tempted to smile at the antics of Kim Jong-un as others once smiled at the reaction to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It would be more to the point to ask the prayers of St Pius X instead.