A Sermon for Nonviolence

by Friar Ed Debono, OFM Conv

The harsh consequences of war and extreme violence are obvious. Huge numbers of precious lives lost, both military and civilians. War inflicts physical, psychological and, spiritual wounds that last a lifetime, affecting individuals, families, and communities. More than 60,000 Canadian soldiers died in World War 1. People are being displaced and on the move seeking refuge. There is ongoing violence in countries engaged in long wars where generation after generation have known only violence.

These tragic realities, evident in our day, set the stage for a fresh appraisal of the challenge of peace. The challenge is not only to the Catholic Church as an institution but also to all of us, to all the people of God to point out and promote a route to a just and sustainable peace that is most consistent with the Gospel.

Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies, to be merciful, to forgive, and to offer no violent resistance to those who do you harm. But he also modeled nonviolence by actively confronting injustice and violence, as when he healed on the Sabbath, or challenged a group of men accusing a woman of adultery, or, on the night before he died, commanded Peter to put away his sword. Jesus’s nonviolence is the power of love in action for the well-being of all.

Various movements today encourage people to be nonviolent in a nonviolent church, with a clear and deliberate commitment to preaching, teaching, and advocating Jesus’s nonviolence life style. We must break the trend of violence and revenge. We have to stand up to systemic injustice not with violence but with love and truth. We have to spread the spirit of the Gospel of nonviolence as much as we can.

Catholic social teachings have not been front and center for a long time.  But we are seeing a greater focus on social issues since the election of Pope Francis. A number of recent papal statements, homilies, and documents have contained references to Gospel nonviolence.

A peace conference in Rome in 2016, called on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence. It urged him to integrate Jesus’s nonviolence in the life of the church and initiate a global conversation on nonviolence.

There have been incidents throughout church history when nonviolence was evident. The witness of early Christian martyrs is evidence of the practice of nonviolence.

In the middle ages the Peace of God was fostered by the church to protect non-combatants from the violence of war.

As a youth, Francis of Assisi was involved in violence. He participated in a protest movement against foreign domination of Assisi; he signed up to fight against a local town and experienced the horrors of war; he was a prisoner of war; and he consequently suffered depression. It lasted about two years.

After his conversion, Francis invited people to help him rebuild the church, the people of God. The people had lost confidence in the Church. Instead of criticizing the church he promoted the Gospel of peace and nonviolence. He highlighted the nonviolence of Jesus; he invited Christians back to the peace of the Gospel. By his life and preaching, he had people thinking and implementing peace as an attainable life style.

In the year of 1219, he went to the battlefield of the 5th Crusade to promote peace between the Crusaders and the Muslims. The Cardinal Legate didn’t want him there. Francis crossed enemy lines for an inter-religious dialogue about peace with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil. The Sultan received him and they became friends. As a sign of their friendship, the Sultan gave Francis an ivory prayer horn and safe passage to the Christian camp. When Francis returned, he told the Cardinal, “Don’t enter into battle with the Muslims because the Christians would lose the war.” And they lost.

Being at peace and having a nonviolent attitude, touches us in the depth of our being. It includes lending an ear, opening ones’ heart to the other, making a place for them, and stretching oneself to truly be with the other.

One of the dimensions of peace is that the doer of peace is willing to be of service to the other. True peace is in the mind–set of the doer towards the other. In many respects it is a friendly approach.

As people of the Gospel, we are to be eager and active to bring about peace in our relationships, in our society, in our country, and in the world.  May God give you peace.