Tag Archives: violence

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.

Violence redeemed

I am often troubled by the violence around me in Honduras. Though it hasn’t touched me, it touches people I know and minister with.

Yesterday I went to a distant village for a Celebration of the Word with Communion. As is my custom, I try to visit the sick after the Celebration, bringing them Communion.

I went to visit the blind mother of one of the people involved in the local church community. His son, recently married, led me to her house.

DSC01468

Seated just inside the door, I sat and greeted her. As is my custom I began to ask about her life, her health, and her family. The tears began to flow as she recalled a son who had been murdered about five years ago. The pain of such a loss still overwhelms her.

After a short prayer, she received communion and I blessed her.

But then the mystery of salvation became all too real.

Her grandson told me how about eight years ago, his brother was killed by someone in the community.  Yet his father and the family have forgiven him and the murderer still lives among them.

Though there was a sort of reconciliation between the father of the young man murdered with the murderer, the murderer still doesn’t acknowledge the greetings of the brother of the man he killed. But this man does not harbor revenge. In fact, he was going to visit the mother of the murderer and give her an injection – a medical treatment very common among the poor.

As we talked, it was clear that he and his family had forgiven the murderer because of their faith in a God who loves all and calls us to love our enemies.

Here is a case of violence redeemed by love. What a way to celebrate Sunday in Easter-time, when we celebrate the redemptive death and resurrection of God-made-flesh.

 


Photo of a sculpture of Kathe Kollwitz in Berlin, taken November 2016.

 

 

Loving enemies and conflict

love your enemies,
pray for those who persecute you…
Matthew 5: 44

Sometimes we think that if we love we will have no enemies. But loving enemies, loving the stranger, may bring us enemies, may cause us to find ourselves opposed to those who seek to demonize the enemy, the stranger.

Love can bring us conflict, but this conflict can be healthy. As Frederick Douglas (who died on February 20, 1895), said in an 1857 speech:  As Bruce Adams wrote in “Building Healthy Communities,” commenting on Frederick Douglas,

I am not trying to abolish conflict. There is great value in healthy conflict. And the dangers of group-think are real. Conflict can inspire creative leadership. Where there are fundamental conflicts over values, they should not be ignored in a sentimental yearning for consensus. The problem in our communities today is not that we have conflict, but that we manufacture conflict and exaggerate differences to the point where it is very difficult to make meaningful change. Too often we abandon basic civility and cannot disagree without questioning the motives of our adversaries. Our standard as we debate should be similar to doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm.” Disagree, but don’t tear the community apart as you do.

I often find it hard to really feel good about disagreeing with someone. I sometimes prefer “peaceful coexistence,” even in the face of a serious disagreement. But real love is not afraid of conflict. In fact, real love – which includes real respect for the other – should welcome conflict and find ways to make of conflict a step to greater community.

This week I spent three days in the Gracias, Lempira, jail for a workshop on Alternatives to Violence where we tried to learn how to facilitate workshops on that theme, finding ways to deal effectively and lovingly with conflict. It was not easy and is not easy. But experiencing the workshop with five persons in jail refreshed my spirit and gives me the hope that I can truly love the enemy in the face of conflict – even the enemy within!

 

Weeping and binding wounds

no more will you weep;
Isaiah 30:19

There has been a lot of weeping and mourning around the world these past several weeks – Paris, Syria, San Bernardino. Victims of violence, refugees fleeing their homes, migrants seeking freedom and livelihoods, and more abound.

It has hit home to me here in Honduras.

There are not only the violent deaths in the main cities and the people dying from lack of food and medicine.

About two weeks ago, a man in our community died after an accident when a car he was working on fell on him. He left a widow and four daughters.

This past Wednesday the mayor of Dolores, one of the municipalities in the parish of Dulce Nombre, was shot and killed in his car and his wife was injured.

Thursday, one of the priests of the diocese died in an auto accident.

Weeping abounds, despite the promise of the Lord in Isaiah.

Yet in today’s first reading from Isaiah (30:26) and in the psalm (147:3) we read these words:

the Lord bind up the wounds of his people.

The Lord is here among us, binding up the wounds.

But that doesn’t mean that we are off the hook. In the Gospel (Matthew 9:35—10: 1, 5 -8), Jesus has compassion on the people but also sends out the twelve, reminding them to not only preach the coming of the Kingdom but make the Reign of God present by giving of themselves to those who are suffering:

Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

Weeping will end when it is shared and when we dry the tears of those who suffer, sitting with them, offering healing and working for the Reign of God.

It is not a question of waiting for God to intervene from afar. God has not intervened from afar; God became human. And Jesus calls us to continue this work in the world – by personal conversion and the conversion of the structures of injustice and violence around us.

It’s now easy. But it can bring deep joy in the midst of the weeping, as we do the work of God – binding up the wounds.

Sitting together on the mourning bench

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Donne

When tragedy strikes, some of the best characteristics of people come to the surface. People run to help, to bind up wounds, to carry away the victims.

The compassion gene comes to the fore.

When such a response moves people to a wider compassion, then God’s love can flourish in our lives.

DSC01469The image that comes to mind tonight is pacifist Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture in Berlin – a modern day Pietà, Mary with Jesus in her arms.

Being a pacifist, I abhor and condemn all violence, especially cowardly violence that takes lives without taking any personal risk.

And so, I mourn and condemn the killings and violence at the Boston Marathon.

But I also condemn and mourn those killed in wars and bombings by governments, including the US or US-supported governments.

And so tonight I pray for the dead and the wounded in Boston, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Israel and Palestine, in El Salvador and Guatemala, in East Timor and Viet Nam, in Hiroshima and Dresden, in Mozote and Auschwitz. And I cry with the families here in Honduras who lose loved ones to the violence – about twenty killed each day.

But I don’t merely mourn and pray for the dead.

I think of how I can commit myself to be an instrument of God’s peace in a violent world.

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The title of this entry comes from recalling a quotation of Nicholas Wolterstorff that I read years ago in Stanley Hauerwas’ Naming the Silences: God, Medicine and the Problem of Suffering:

To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.