Peace & Reconciliation
Have you heard of people who shove their girlfriend or slap their boyfriend? Maybe you know someone who pushed your friend to take drugs or to drink beyond her limit? Someone who goads your buddies into making fun of someone who makes them uncomfortable? Make a younger or weaker person feel stupid or ridiculous because they can? Or do you know someone who manipulated you into any of these actions so that you are accepted or liked or NOT distained? These are acts of violence of which we are all quite capable. We may even do one or the other at some point in our lives.
There are other acts of violence to which we are exposed. Children playing are wounded by people around them fighting gang wars. Sometimes people abuse their own spouses or children. Every day we hear of suicide bombings where scores of people minding their own business are injured or killed. In our schools or on our own streets we witness bullying and other despicable behavior. There are other violent issues in the world such as human trafficking, racism, sexism, abortion, capital punishment, war, deforestation, animal cruelty, arms proliferation for profit, nuclear armament, and more. Violence is glorified in movies. Our American culture seems preoccupied with it. It is accepted as a response to mistreatment, and tolerated because “Boys will be boys!” or “That’s the way real life is.” or “Who can do anything about it?” or “They hurt us first!” or “They won’t listen to anything else!”
We can do something about violence in the world. We can. We begin by making sure there is none in our own lives, at least none for which we are responsible. That might sound pretty simple, especially if we don’t live in a violent neighborhood or household. But it isn’t. We have to make choices. Can we choose to avoid violence in our lives? Can we make sure we don’t hate or hold a grudge? Can we avoid manipulation and greed, because those are as much acts of violence as shootings and beatings? Are we able to keep from using other people for our own ambitions or pleasure without thought of the toll it might take on them? Can we govern our tongues and keep from speaking hurtful words to another or spreading half truths and gossip because it makes us feel important or powerful or in the know? We begin to address the violence in the world around us by beginning with ourselves. Bullies, manipulators, gossips, users, predators and terrorists have one thing in common. They don’t care about any other needs than their own. And so when I’m preoccupied with my need for power or pleasure or security or profit or prestige, I can be cooperating with violence. If I resist the call of those actions, I can be a peace maker.
And when I fail, when I fall into using others or hurting them, what then? I need to ask for forgiveness. What about when others do violence to me? This is even harder. I need to give forgiveness. No one should remain in a violent or abusive situation. Get out, get away. But returning violence for violence won’t really change the people involved. All around us folks justify giving back what they get. All around us, violence escalates. It doesn’t end because it is a fearsome thing to ask for forgiveness or to forgive. But it is the only way to stop the cycle. If I give what I get, it doesn’t stop. If I harden my heart and continually revisit my indignity, it doesn’t stop. If I can’t move beyond my loss, my cross, my injustice, it doesn’t stop. If I can’t be sorry and admit to be mistaken or selfish or greedy or misinformed, it doesn’t stop. Francis of Assisi knew this. He had tried war and manipulation and greed and distain of others. He found those things were a dead end. So he made a life of giving and seeking forgiveness. He found life in reaching out to lepers and robbers and those who were unlike him. He found life in dialogue and understanding. He found life in the image of Jesus who forgave his enemies and challenges us to do the same. Francis knew who he was before God and who he wanted to be in the world. He wanted to live in peace with all and to be reconciled to all. It isn’t simple, it isn’t easy. But it is possible. He did it. We can do it too. We must. Or the world will never change.
Peace and all good!
Father John Doctor, OFM
Vice President for Mission and Ministry