Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Gospel of Nonviolence: Jesus Offers an Invitation to Be Freed from the Alluring Temptation to Answer Violence with Violence

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Gospel of Nonviolence: Jesus Offers an Invitation to Be Freed from the Alluring Temptation to Answer Violence with Violence

Article excerpt

Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies, to be abundantly merciful, to repent and forgive, and to offer no violent resistance to those who do evil. But he also modeled nonviolence by actively confronting injustice and violence, as when he defied the Sabbath laws to heal the disabled, confronted unjust power at the Temple, challenged a throng of assailants accusing a woman of adultery, and, on the night before he died, commanded Peter to put down his sword. Neither passive nor weak, Jesus' nonviolence is the power of love in action for the well-being of all.

Imagine nurturing a new identity as nonviolent people in a nonviolent church with a clear and deliberate commitment to preaching, teaching, activating, and boldly proclaiming Jesus' nonviolence at every level. We must return good for evil, break the chains of escalatory violence and revenge, stand up to systemic injustice not with violence but with determined love, and fully trust the God of love and truth rather than the power of violence. And if the theology and spirituality of gospel nonviolence were more deliberately integrated into the life of the church, we would more clearly recognize the sacred way and work of peace, reconciliation, and nonviolent transformation in our time of monumental crisis and opportunity.

Catholic social thought, including a growing number of recent papal statements and church documents, has increasingly articulated the centrality of gospel nonviolence. As Pope Benedict XVI put it in a 2007 homily, "Nonviolence, for Christians, is not mere tactical behavior but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God's love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Loving the enemy is the nucleus of the 'Christian revolution.'" In the same address, the pope declared that nonviolence "does not consist in surrendering to evil--as claims a false interpretation of 'turn the other cheek' (Luke 6:29)--but in responding to evil with good (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice." This and many other recent papal declarations--including Pope Francis' 2013 statement that "faith and violence are incompatible"--have helped increase the church's awareness of the nonviolence of Jesus.

In its first three centuries, the church wagered that Jesus was utterly serious when he said "love your enemies" and "peace be with you" and therefore consistently sought to embody the way and discipline of spiritually grounded nonviolence. Now, facing our turbulent age of global violence, searing injustice, and catastrophic climate change, we are dramatically invited again to recenter our lives and our church in the spirituality and practice of the nonviolent Jesus--and to be consciously freed from the alluring temptation that violence is the answer to violence.

It is in this spirit that the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace hosted the landmark Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Attended by bishops, priests, theologians, members of religious congregations, and laypeople from six continents, the conference called on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and asked the Catholic Church to "recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence." It urged the church to integrate Jesus' nonviolence throughout the life of the church, promote nonviolent practices and strategies, initiate a global conversation on the power of nonviolence, and to "support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk. …

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