We all know we live in a violent world. We can just watch "Animal Planet" and see how animals can be violent to one another, whether hunting or among their own kind (contrary to popular opinion, by the way) battling for mates, hierarchy or food.
(Photos from Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 October 07)
And then we see how we human beings can treat one another. And not just in warfare, but people commit violent acts even in our cities, our places of business and our homes.
Just today we learned of another school shooting -- this time in the inner city of Cleveland,
Ohio. The alleged assailant attacked several people with his gun and then apparently turned the weapon on himself commiting suicide. How terrible for the students, the faculty, the staff, the young man himself -- and his family. It is a poison which infects our speech, our behavior and our attitudes to one another.
What can we possibly do about this? I don't presume to have any easy answer. As Christians we claim that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. We read God's promises in the Bible, such as, ". . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." (Isa. 2:4b,c).
We see in St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the founder of our Franciscan Order, a model of peacemaking based on the Gospels, especially the Beatitudes of Matthew, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." (Mt. 5:9).
There was an episode, for example, toward the end of St. Francis' life, when the bishop and the mayor were at odds in a bitter feud. Francis had recently composed the Canticle of the Creatures, and added a verse specifically for this occasion, which he had a couple friars sing in the public square, "Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love and bear infirmity and tribulation." This simple gesture from the Poverllo apparently quelled the violent hearts of the leaders of both parties so that, in tears, they reconciled on the spot!
It seems that the antidote to the poison of violence begins when we recognize that we are capable of doing violent acts. Anyone can hurt another (we probably are all guilty of that!), and in so doing, whether in cold silence in our hearts or in inflammatory speech, we have committed violence.
The next step is to realize we have choices -- we can retaliate when a wrong is done to us, or respond as Jesus teaches in the Gospels (e.g. "Love your enemy!"). In prayer, we ask the Lord to change our hearts. This doesn't mean our anger or indignation will magically evaporate; rather, we learn to work with the anger.
We have an opportunity to forgive! We pray it in the Lord's Prayer, ". . . forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
So, simply put, I cannot deal with the violence out there if I don't deal with the violence in my own heart! St. Francis himself advised his brothers who preached God's Word, "Be sure you have peace in your own heart before you preach it to others." Peacemaking is our Christian vocation, and as Franciscan friars, it is at the heart of our vocation to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.