Our undeserved peace prize

Did President Barack Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded Oct. 9? Nine months into his presidency, has he done enough to foster peace in the world? What was the Nobel committee thinking when they named our new president the recipient of what may be the world’s most prestigious honor? How will the award influence Obama’s decision-making in the future?

Those questions and others made for interesting commentary after last Friday’s surprise announcement. The official reaction from Catholic leaders was congratulatory and hope-filled.

At the Vatican, the news was greeted “with appreciation . . . in light of the president’s demonstrated commitment to promoting peace on an international level and, in particular, in recently promoting nuclear disarmament,” according to spokesperson Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. “It is hoped that this very important recognition would offer greater encouragement for such a difficult but fundamental dedication to the future of humanity so that it may bring about the desired results,” he said in a written statement.

In the U.S., Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered his congratulations to Obama.

“As he has graciously said, much of the work of realizing a more peaceful and just world for all persons and nations remains to be done,” said Cardinal George. “But the prize was given because, as president of the United States, he has already changed the international conversation.” Cardinal George said Obama’s historic election “has changed the relationships between men and women of all races . . . Our prayer is that almighty God will bless the president and his family.”

The surprise announcement had its share of skeptics and critics, often (but not always) predictable because of politics. Within hours of the announcement, we received an e-mail from a lay Catholic leader in our diocese who, citing Obama’s pro-abortion record, called his selection for a peace award “an abominable choice.”

“Too bad the Nobel committee did not look at the pictures of the horrific violence to a fetus in a woman’s womb during the act of abortion,” for which Obama is an advocate, she wrote. We share the writer’s concern for abortion’s voiceless, innocent victims.

Still, many here and abroad have high expectations and hopes for President Obama. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta called this latest recognition “an invitation to greatness.”

We’ve received the same invitation.

Through our baptism, we all are called to be peacemakers — ambassadors of the very Prince of Peace. Maybe the occasion of President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is a good time for us to take stock of our own calling. How are we contributing to peace in our homes? In our workplaces? In our neighborhoods and communities?

How well are we living the prayer of St. Francis? Are we sowing love where we find hatred? Pardon where there is injury? Faith where we find doubt? Hope to those in despair? Are we a light in anyone’s darkness? Will our joy dispel someone’s sadness today?

It’s an exam we should regularly take. But no matter how well we grade ourselves, none of us — not even the greatest Nobel Peace Prize winner — deserves the ultimate peace award God is ready to bestow on us. What was God thinking in offering the likes of us eternal life, joy and peace? And how will that offer of divine love and mercy influence our decision-making in the future?

Let’s all find a new way this week to show our own humble acceptance of, and gratitude for, this undeserved honor. Blessed, indeed, are the peacemakers. — Thomas J. Dermody

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