A very simple idea in chemistry is the difference between spontaneous and nonspontaneous reactions. First of all, chemical reactions are written like this:
The difference between spontaneous and nonspontaneous is that spontaneous reactions favor the products. That means that if the reactants are put together, they will automatically turn into the products without any other help needed. An example of this from your elementary school science fair is the baking soda volcano. When you make the volcano, you combine baking soda (NaHCO3) with vinegar (CH3COOH) and immediately you see a reaction occur. This bubbling of foam is actually this chemical equation taking place.
NaHCO3(s) + CH3COOH(aq.) --> CH3COONa(aq.) + CO2(g) + H2O(l)
It happens spontaneously. Nothing else needs to be added. When nonspontaneous reactions occur, they need something called a catalyst to make them happen. In those reactions, the reactants are favored over the products, so you need to add something to push it in the other direction. Often times this catalyst is simply heat, but sometimes a metal compound, light, or electricity can be used. For example, nitrogen N2(g) and oxygen O2(g) are both found in our atmosphere, but they do not spontaneously turn into nitric oxide 2NO(g). This is good since nitric oxide is a toxic gas. Our atmosphere wouldn’t be very breathable. This reaction CAN take place, though, if there are high temperatures or electricity to push the reaction along. This sometimes happens in small amounts when lightning strikes through the air.
The lightning is the catalyst. The lightning is the thing that moves the reaction forward. The reaction NEEDS a driving force. Recently a friend of mine helped me see that all of life is like a nonspontaneous reaction. If you don’t DO SOMETHING, if you’re not the driving force, nothing is ever going to happen.
My friend was talking about one specific instance of this. He was speaking of the beatitude (Matthew 5) that says:
I had never really thought about the wording of this statement until he pointed it out. It says blessed are the peaceMAKERS. It doesn’t say blessed are those who enjoy times of peace. It doesn’t say blessed are those who observe peace. It is an active statement. Jesus is telling his disciples to be catalysts towards peace. WE must be the driving force to get us there.
When my friend was speaking of this, he was referencing some statements by Pope Francis on the matter. I think Pope Francis put it beautifully in his General Audience on 10/11/17,
“There is no peacemaker who at the end of the day has not compromised his personal peace, taking on the problems of others. A submissive person is not a peace-builder but is an idler, one who wants to be comfortable. Meanwhile a Christian is a peacemaker when he takes risks, when he has the courage to take risks in order to bring good, the good which Jesus has given us, given us as a treasure.”
I’ll admit, one of my strongest self-preservation instincts is to avoid conflict. Most of the time I will do this at all costs. Sometimes this can be good, to keep the peace and not cause fights over small petty things. Other times, I am as Pope Francis calls “an idler”. I see conflict happening and I actively choose to not be a part of it. It is a good thing that I am not ADDING to the conflict, but it is not good that I am not actively working to help settle those conflicts. I am actively choosing to not even try to be a peacemaker.
Stepping into those conflicts and trying to be a peacemaker is one of my biggest fears. I do not like that role, but Jesus calls each of us to have “the courage to take risks in order to bring good”. Saint Alberto Hurtado used to say, “It is very good not to do wrong, but very bad not to do good.” So this gets me thinking, how can I actively do good?
Take some time this week to ask God to show you what conflicts are present among your friends and your families. What does it look like for you to be a peacemaker? What relationships need a push, a catalyst, to find reconciliation? Like I said, it seems like a big ask, but I don’t think we should be afraid to ask. I think we should try. When we do, when we work towards peace, in our families, in our communities, we must strive for peace with love in our hearts, love for our fellow man and love for truth and justice. In another homily on the topic, Pope Francis put it like this:
“Being peacemakers (cf. Mt 5:9), however, does not mean simply striving to avoid internal tensions, working to end the bloodshed and conflicts throughout our world, or relieving those who suffer. To be workers for peace entails promoting a culture of peace. This requires love for the truth, without which authentic human relationships cannot exist; it also requires the pursuit of justice, without which oppression becomes the rule in any community.”
I pray that you all proceed with love for your family and friends, working to be the catalyst that brings peace and resolution to our communities. I know it will take courage; may God grant each of us the strength that we need, for nothing is going to change if we do not make it happen.
Speaking of peace, Pope Francis recently has been asking that all of us pray for peace in Ukraine. The Holy Father has been speaking out about it for the last few months, even calling for a day of prayer for peace for that situation at the end of January. As we work to spread peace in our local communities, let us also pray for peace around the world, especially with this growing conflict.