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Blessed Are The Non-Violent


John Dear, S.J.
Painting by Stan Miller

Spacer The Beatitudes, found at the heart of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, are the primary text--and basic guidelines--of non-violence. They challenge us to live every facet of non-violence just as Jesus did.

Spacer Blessed are the poor in spirit. Jesus begins his sermon asserting this great spiritual reality. It is not the rich or the powerful, not those in control, but the poor of spirit who receive the first and greatest blessing--entrance into God's reign. Let go of your possessions, your power over others, your prestige, Jesus urges us, and in your emptiness, discover the reign of God. Non-violence begins with poverty of spirit. Only as we let go of everything we possess, to the point of giving our lives for others, do we let go of every trace of violence or domination. This is a great and difficult lesson, but it is the beginning of wisdom. Non-violence begins with the heart, with the inner life. It is a question, not of power and domination, but of powerlessness. Jesus models this on the cross, the ultimate demonstration of poverty of spirit. Our culture hypnotizes us to pursue money and possessions, power and prestige, but Jesus turns the values of the world upside down. Jesus calls us to the economics of God's reign. Blessed are the poor. Though they have nothing in the eyes of the world, the reign of God is alive among them.

Spacer Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus continues. Millions of people in our world have grieved the loss of loved ones killed by war, starvation, or injustice. Have we allowed the sorrow of the world's suffering to touch our hearts, to push us to act? Do we look that suffering in the eye, and take on the task of ending injustice and war, or do we turn away in denial and thus postpone our own inevitable confrontation with grief? As we mourn, Jesus promises that God's own spirit will console us. In that mourning, we find a peace, a consolation, even a joy, we did not know possible.

Spacer Blessed are the meek, Jesus teaches, they shall inherit the earth. Here we discover the biblical word for non-violence. The world praises the violent, the arrogant, the proud, but Jesus calls for humility and gentleness. Jesus challenges us to renounce every form of violence in our hearts and in our world, including war, injustice, racism, greed, consumerism, hatred, and the destruction of the environment. As we enter into God's spirit of creative non-violence, we receive the blessing of creation itself.

Spacer Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, Jesus insists, they shall be satisfied. Be passionate for justice, he tells us. Resist injustice with every bone in your body. As the Jesuit martyr from El Salvador, Ignacio Ellacuria wrote, "Christians and all those who hate injustice are obligated to fight it with every ounce of their strength. They must work for a new world in which greed and selfishness will finally be overcome." Seeking justice is a constitutive element of our faith. It is a matter of life and death, and thus a spiritual matter. The gospel asks: How much do we crave justice? To the extent that we struggle for justice, Jesus seems to say, we will find meaning and purpose in our lives. In the struggle itself, Jesus explains, speaking from his own experience, we find satisfaction.

Spacer Blessed are the merciful; they shall be shown mercy. While we struggle for justice on the one hand, our guide instructs, we must pour out mercy on the other. Our world insists in a million ways--no mercy to the victims, to the poor, to women, to children, to the elderly, to the homeless, to the refugee, to the hungry, to the imprisoned, to the enemy. Yet the world does not tell the inevitable spiritual consequences of mercilessness: "They shall be shown no mercy." Mercy is at the heart of God. Thomas Merton defined God as "Mercy within Mercy within Mercy." Be as compassionate, as merciful, as God, Jesus pleads--always forgiving, always kind to one another, always merciful towards ourselves and others. My Catholic sister Helen Prejean exemplifies this mercy as she befriends those on death row and their families, as well as the family members of the victims. As we share mercy, we sow seeds of mercy, which one day will wash back over us.

Spacer Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God. To be a person of non-violence, for Jesus, is to be pure of heart, at peace with ourselves. To live with a disarmed heart requires contemplation, for only daily intimate prayer with the God of peace will disarm our hearts of our inner violence. Francis of Assisi advised: "While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart." As we cultivate non-violence of the heart, and as we root all that we do in the God of peace, we begin to see God everywhere--in the poor, in the struggle for justice and peace, in our communities, in the eucharistic gifts of bread and wine, in creation itself, in our enemies, in one another. One day, in pure contemplation, we shall see God face to face.

Spacer Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus whispers. Jesus wants his followers to make peace, to end war and the conditions for war. He wants us to reconcile everyone in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our nation, and in the world. To make peace in these times, Jesus would have us renounce war and nuclear weapons, seek disarmament, persistently reconcile all peoples, and love our enemies. He would bring together people of all races in our neighborhoods and would heal the deep ethnic and religious divisions in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Public peacemaking is hard. Peacemakers like Jesus rarely find support for their work and often don't live to see the fruits of their efforts. They may find themselves misunderstood and rejected, if not labeled with every epithet possible. Yet Jesus calls those who strive for peace the sons and daughters of God. He knows that God is a peacemaking God.

Spacer Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of justice, for my name's sake. Rejoice and be glad! This last instruction may be the hardest of all. Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement noted that we can measure our discipleship by the amount of persecution we undergo. For Jesus, the greatest blessing comes in suffering for the sake of justice and refusing to retaliate with violence. In such moments, the reign of God is revealed as unconditional, non-violent, redemptive love. We may be persecuted for speaking the truth. We may be shunned by the powerful for prophetically denouncing injustice and calling for disarmament and peace. But when we take non-violent risks for social change, we enter into the final blessing of Jesus' life: the mystery of the cross and the resurrection. And by sharing in that mystery, we welcome God's reign. As we willingly suffer for justice, as we refuse to retaliate with further violence, as we continue to speak the truth of justice and peace until our dying breath, we rejoice. We rejoice because we share the lot of the saints, the prophets, the martyrs--and Jesus himself. In the midst of this joy, we find the non-violent reign of God close at hand.

Spacer As I continue to ponder the Beatitudes, I recognize more and more how profoundly I have failed to live them out. And yet, they beckon me.
I am discovering that as we allow the spirituality of non-violence to take root in our hearts, God does things to us. According to Jesus, it is God who takes the initiative. God gives us God's reign. God consoles us. God offers the earth as an inheritance. God satisfies our longings for social justice. God bestows mercy upon us. God shows God's face to us. God calls us God's sons and daughters. God gives us joy.
Spacer As we grow in contemplative non-violence and walk the way of the Beatitudes, we see God at work. We are filled with hope because we know God is leading us and transforming humanity into God's reign of peace. We learn firsthand that God, thankfully, is in charge, and though we are sinners, we are greatly blessed.

Spacer John Dear, S.J.

Spacer Excerpt from the article: Blessed Are The Non-Violent -1998

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