Back in 2003, as the US was preparing to invade Iraq, many people both inside and outside the Church were debating the morality of the upcoming war. Were there WMDs? Even if there were, could a pre-emptive strike be legitimized? Did this meet the criteria of the just war theory? In the midst of all the questioning, a student at the seminary in Houston (where I was teaching) had a bumper sticker made, that read: I think when Jesus said to love your enemies he didn’t mean to kill them. For me, that said it all.
Just two years ago, in his message for the 50th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis surprised many by stating: “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence. As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed, that teaching ‘is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This “more” comes from God’”. This is the same God who, in Jesus’ proclamation of the Beatitudes, reminded us that peacemakers are blessed. It reminds me, as well, of the early Christians who refused to serve as soldiers or to go to war.
Several years ago I became convinced that Jesus was a practitioner of creative nonviolence; this weekend’s Gospel passage reminds me of that. It also reminds me that I need to bring this nonviolence home. It is easy to point fingers and to say that “the world” needs to learn nonviolence. We need to stop having wars. “They” need to change. The reality, though, is that I need to change, too. I need to pay attention to how I respond to people. Or, as Pope Francis said in his Peace Day message, “Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts’”.
“As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts.” I feel indicted by that statement. It is so easy for me to write these words, to say beautiful things from the pulpit, or to repost Facebook memes about being people of peace. It is much harder to break cycles: to respond to a harsh word with gentleness, to answer cynicism with kindness, injustice with justice, evil with goodness. Won’t you join me in trying?