„The Magna Carta of Christian Non- Violence”

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

Politics for Peace
CA&C, Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the most hopeful signs of growth and evolution in Christianity today is the effort to reclaim nonviolence as fundamental to Jesus’ life and teaching. Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace in 2017 focused on this:

I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. . . .

May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms. . . .

Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all. 

An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence . . . cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue. Hence, I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics. [1] I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children. . . .

Jesus taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:21). . . . Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross . . . (Ephesians 2:14-16). 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.” [2] . . .

As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed . . . : “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that [they are] not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.” [3] The Gospel command to love your enemies (Luke 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence.” [4] . . .

Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount [see Matthew 5:3-10]. . . . Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

[1] Message for the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (December 7, 2014).

[2] “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.

[3] Benedict XVI, Angelus (February 18, 2007). Full text at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20070218.html.

[4] Ibid.

Pope Francis, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace,” Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (January 1, 2017), http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20161208_messaggio-l-giornata-mondiale-pace-2017.html.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

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