Tag Archives: vengeance

Saint Rita and the cycle of violence

saint ritaToday is the feast of Saint Rita of Cascia, a saint of impossible cases, like Saint Jude. I recall that devotion to her was strong in the Italian-American Catholic community of my youth.

But there is something about Saint Rita that I think is much more important for our world than her miracles or even the mark of a thorn on her forehead, recalling Christ’s crown of thorns.

Saint Rita was married to a man who did not share her piety. He was brash, a womanizer, and a brawler. Together they had two sons who shared their father’s character.

Rite persisted in prayer and her husband experienced a conversion, but shortly after he was killed by members of a rival family.

She forgave those who killed her husband, but her sons wanted to avenge his death. Saint Rita prayed that they would die rather than murder their adversaries. They finally ended up giving up their desire for revenge. But they died.

Rita was then free to pursue her earlier dream of being a nun and applied to the local Augustinian convent.

They rejected her, supposedly because she was not a virgin. But the real reason might have been that there were sisters in the convent who were members of the family that killed her husband. They were afraid of the consequences and the potential conflict.

Not one to be easily dissuaded, Rita started talking with members of her husband’s family as well as with the family of the man who had killed him. Her efforts resulted in an agreement between them to not pursue any violence or retribution.

That done, she was accepted into the convent.

I discovered this story when I went one Sunday to preside at a village church dedicated to Santa Rita a few days before her feast day. They were going to have a Mass and a celebration for that whole sector of the parish, in which there had been a death a few months ago as an act of retribution, not uncommon here in Honduras, where the “justice” system does not function and so people take the “law” in their own hands.

Saint Rita is one of those who broke the cycle of violence, seeking reconciliation. I pray that she may intercede here in Honduras, as well as in other prats of the world where revenge causes deaths.

I especially pray for two men killed a few days ago here in our parish – probably as acts of retribution.

 


Photo taken from this site.

The foolishness of love

The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.
1 Corinthians 3: 9

 What can be as crazy as loving your enemies, as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, Matthew 5: 44?

What can be as foolhardy as praying for your persecutors – except praying that they may die before killing you?

An “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” makes sense, until you realize, with Gandhi, that taking an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

Love your enemies.

We won’t even talk to those who hold a political position different from ours.

This is not just a problem in the polarized situation in the US. It is a problem here in the deeply polarized climate of Honduras. A friend recently told me of a base community in which two families have stopped coming – since they are in conflict largely because they supported different political parties (the Nationalists and LIBRE) in the last election.

Pray for your persecutors.

You’ve got to be kidding; they are out to kill me and take away my liberty.

But Saint Polycarp, the second century bishop of Smyrna whose feast is today, made sure that the soldiers who came to take him away had dinner. He went off to pray as they ate.

Closer to our time, one day, Dom Helder Camara, the twentieth century bishop of Recife, Brazil, opened the door of his humble dwelling to a man who was sent to assassinate him. The man demurred – “I cannot kill a man of God.”

Praying for persecutors, responding in love to them is not going to assure that we are not killed or injured. But it can make a difference in our lives and in the world.

Consider the example of Bud Welch whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. It was not easy and it took him a while but he went and visited the father of one of the bombers, Timothy McVeigh.

Bud came to realize that it would be wrong to kill McVeigh and the other bomber, for “the day that we might kill either one of them would be a day of vengeance and rage, and vengeance and rage is exactly why Julie and 167 others are dead.”

How to begin this?

Very simply, pray each day for someone with whom you are in conflict. Let God change your heart as well as theirs.

When I was a kid we prayed at the end of each Mass for the conversion of Russia. We forgot to pray for the conversion of our own country, the United States.

We forgot what Thomas Merton wrote at the end of one of his most poignant articles “The Root of War Is Fear”:

…instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Let us pray for our own conversion and then we may be able to begin to love our enemies.

How foolish!