US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A day of nonviolence

Liz Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The execution of Troy Davis. 10 years of war in Afghanistan. The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. In the face of so much death and war, reflecting on nonviolence can often seem futile or idyllic.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending “Gospel Nonviolence,” a retreat sponsored by Chicago’s Catholics for Nonviolence and led by Ken Butigan of Pace e Bene. The day was spent focusing on Jesus’ messages of nonviolence and served as a good reminder that nonviolence is not a passive or utopian worldview.

Butigan quoted the following excerpt from the book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Fortress Press): “If God is what you turn to when all else fails, violence is certainly a god.” We certainly seem to be living in the midst of a “religion of violence,” but instead of worshipping violence, Jesus called for a revolution of love – a call he made to people who directly experienced violence and injustice. Instead of responding to oppression with fear, hatred, or deception, Jesus offered a fourth strategy of unconditional, selfless love.

We explored the meanings of passages from the gospels such as the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus’ order to “put down your sword,” and the famous “turn the other cheek” passage. From each of these examples we were able to see how Jesus spoke in the context of his culture to encourage nonviolence as an active form of resistance and as the preferred option for combating oppression.

Nonviolence is rooted in an experience of violence. It is not a random response, or one that ignores or runs away from a problem—it is a response to the real experience of violence present everywhere in our lives. (In addition to overt examples of violence such as killing and death, it is important to remember that even our words and thoughts can promote violence. How often while on the way to work do we respond with violent thoughts or actions when someone cuts us off in traffic?)

At this gathering, instead of promoting a stereotype of nonviolence as “warm and fuzzy,” I was surrounded by people who work hard every day to try to end violence – strong, courageous people who persevere in the face of obstacles to implementing strategies of nonviolence.

The Brazilian word for nonviolence means “relentless persistence.” As Catholics, we are called to the relentless persistence of nonviolence that Jesus laid out for us in the gospels.