To my seminary students I emphasize that when they debate issues of life and death, they nevertheless have to be irenic. Some students have not heard the word so that gives me the opportunity to explain that the word means ‘promoting peace’, to introduce a saint whose name was Irenikos and to say that I try to practice this virtue. I tell them that I can count on one hand how many times I have become very upset.
Inevitably the students want to find out when those occasions have been. My answer is for them to talk with the persons who have experienced my anger or wrath when I was extremely upset. It was the fact that I was completely out of control in those situations that has led me to practice this virtue of peacefulness. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God!”
Sometimes the discussion leads to questions about absolutes or perfection. Due to the fact that I had occasions when my anger took over, some students would say that I am not irenic person. In fact my practice of this virtue is exactly because I am afraid of the alternatives. I am afraid of where my anger will lead, and therefore, I assiduously practice peacefulness.
Listening to my students, I have to agree that they are right. I grew up in an area that had tobacco plantations and I worked on the tobacco plantations, but I have never desired to smoke nor did I try smoking. In fact some of my good friends tried to force me to smoke, or at least take a puff and in the process they burned my lips. I also knew many people who started and were not able to quit and that may have influenced my desire never to start smoking. Thus when it comes to smoking I can claim the strongest resistance to a vice or sin and the ability to stay from it. Thus, I can claim that I am a non-smoker because I have never smoked even a puff of a cigarette.
The same story is not true for my being a person who does not drink alcoholic beverages. I grew up in a place that had many vineyards in addition to tobacco fields. In our home we had wine and vodka. There have been a number of times when I drank alcoholic drinks and a couple of times when I was drunk. I serve in a church where some of the members of the congregation drink alcoholic beverages and some do not. The reason for my wife and me deciding not to have alcoholic beverages in our home, drink for social occasions or give our children alcoholic drinks was two-fold - we wanted to demonstrate that one can have a happy life and lots of fun without drinking alcoholic beverages and secondly, on both side of our families we have relatives who were alcoholics. Because of this addiction, some of them died young and some of them died poor and some wrought havoc on their families.
A couple of years ago, I listened to Tony Campolo talking about what it means to live frugally in an opulent society – in other words how to imitate Mother Theresa in the suburbs of the USA. He talked about how he lives in a small house and helps the poor with his income. Many people tell him that he is a defender of the poor. “Yet, with all my help,” said Campolo, “if I do not tell the poor about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done for me and what he is willing to do for them, I have missed the mark.”
When we talk about our accomplishments, when we talk about what we are able to do, it is always good to mention that all of these things we have been able to do because the Holy Spirit sent by the God the Father and God the Son enables us to do.