Tag Archives: nonviolence

Francis and Gandhi: poverty and nonviolence

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every one’s need, but not every one’s greed.”

Today, the birthday of Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi, the Mahatma, in 1869, is the international day of nonviolence.


Though St. Francis never would have used the term “nonviolence,” he was an advocate of all that leads to peace.

In particular, St. Francis saw the relationship between possessions and war, taking seriously the words of Saint James (4:1-2):

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.

Because of this Francis sought a life of poverty for himself and his companions, a truly shocking proposal in the thirteenth century and even more so now.

The response of the church officials was strong. As G. K. Chesterton notes in Saint Francis of Assisi:

“The good Bishop of Assisi expressed a sort of horror at the hard life which the Little Brothers lived at the Portiuncula, without comforts, without possessions, eating anything they could get and sleeping anyhow on the ground. St. Francis answered him with that curious and almost stunning shrewdness which the unworldly can sometimes wield like a club of stone. He said, ‘If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.”

There are few of us who have the courage and the trust in God to give up all, but we can start by trying to live lives of austerity.

I am not talking of the mandatory austerity that has often been imposed on countries since such austerity measures most often affect the poor.

I refer to the voluntary austerity that we see in Francis, in Gandhi, and in many who accompany the poor. This is what Pope Francis writes about in Gaudete et Exsultate, ¶70, commenting on the Beatitudes in Saint Luke’s Gospel :

Luke does not speak of poverty “of spirit” but simply of those who are “poor” (cf. Lk 6:20). In this way, he too invites us to live a plain and austere life. He calls us to share in the life of those most in need, the life lived by the Apostles, and ultimately to configure ourselves to Jesus who, though rich, “made himself poor” (2 Cor 8:9).

I believe that developing a spirituality of austerity, trying to live “a plain and austere life” is what will help us work to peace. Austerity, “sufficiency for all as the first priority,” is a personal commitment to the poor and can be,  in the words of Denis Goulet, “the economic expression of a society’s commitment to placing the needs of all above the wants of the few” (The Uncertain Promise,  p. 164).

When we learn to live austerely – as persons, as communities, as nations – we begin to live nonviolently, in the spirit of Francis and Gandhi.


The sculptures are found in a park south of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Saint Francis and the challenge of nonviolence

Carlo Carretto, a Little Brother of Jesus, wrote an amazing reflection on Saint Francis,  I, Francis, speaking as if he were the saint of Assisi. In one chapter he reflects on the famous story of Saint Francis taming the wolf of Gubbio.


A wolf had been ravaging the town and the people sought the help of Francis. Francis went out to meet the wolf who stopped in the middle of charging the saint and meekly greeted Francis. Francis explained that the wolf was ravaging the town because he was hungry. He arranged a pact between the townspeople and the wolf, that lasted until the wolf died, fed everyday by the people of Gubbio.

Here are some reflections of Carlo Carretto, in the voice of Francis.

“What is extraordinary in the incident of the wolf of Gubbio is not that the wolf grew tame, but that the people of Gubbio grew tame — and that they ran out to meet the cold and hungry wolf not with pruning knives and hatchets but with bread and hot porridge.
“Here is the miracle of love: to discover that all creation is one, flung out into space by a God who is a Father, and that if you present yourself to it as he does — unarmed and full of peace — creation will recognize you and meet you with a smile.”

“Here is the absolutely basic secret, hidden in God’s whole place for humanity.
“To believe in the possibility of the impossible.
“To hope in things against all hope.
“TO love what does not seem lovable.
“God’s proposition to humanity is always wrapped in the veil of this mystery.”

“If human beings go to war, it is because they fear someone.
“Remove the fear, and you shall reestablish trust. And you shall have peace.
“Nonviolence is fear’s destruction.”

Saint Francis, pray that God may make us, His People, artisans of peace.

A good politician

Many people, especially here in Honduras, say politics is dirty. Even though politics is seen by the church as a way to promote the common good, many still see politics as unredeemable.

This is understandable when when we see so many corrupt politicians who only seek their own good or who have narrow visions that demonize opponents and refuse to seek the good of the poor.

And so when we see a good politician we are in awe – and sometimes canonize them before their deaths.

But there are good politicians who have a heart set on the good of the community and who are willing to commit their lives to justice for the poor.

One of those, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, was shot and killed on August 21, 1983, as he got off a plane in Manila.

He had been imprisoned in the 1970s by the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. After seven years in prison he was released for medical care in the US after a heart attack but was forbidden to return to his native land.

He however decided to return. When the plane landed, soldiers entered took Benigno out of the cabin and shot him.

Three years later a nonviolent movement, spearheaded by the church, including Cardinal Sin and the base communities, overthrew Marcos.

In his testimony to a US House of Representatives committee barely two months before his death, Aquino explained his nonviolence:

“One can fight hatred with greater hatred, but [former Filipino president Ramón] Magsaysay proved that it is more effective to fight hatred with greater Christian love. . . .

“I have decided to pursue my freedom struggle through the path of nonviolence, fully cognizant that this may be the longer and the more arduous road. If I have made the wrong decision, only I, and maybe my family, will suffer. . . .But by taking the road of revolution, how many lives, other than mine, will have to be sacrificed?…

“I refuse to believe that it is necessary for a nation to build its foundations on the bones of its young. . . . Filipinos are still killing each other in ever increasing numbers. This blood-letting must cease. This madness must cease.

“I think it can be stopped if all Filipinos can get together as true brothers and sisters and search for a healing solution in a genuine spirit of give and take. We must transcend our petty selves, forget our hurts and bitterness, cast aside thoughts of revenge, and let sanity, reason, and, above all, love of country prevail during our gravest hour.”

Would that we had more politicians with such a vision, with such faith in God, and such a willingness to give himself for the common good.