The belief that violence works is the religion of so many of us today. We believe that violence is redemption, that which frees us and keeps us safe. To live a Christian life is to contest that. Jesus came to stand in opposition to the structures of power, injustice, oppression, and domination that make our world the dungeon it has in so many ways become. Violent revolution changes the rules but not the values so it does not work to bring about essential change. What works, according to Jesus, is nonviolent resistance to evil. How can this be done? What is the spiritual practice that can make us a force of peace?
Our goal is not to submit to violence or be a doormat but to stand firm and face it with love. We do not put up with aggression or abuse, as Gandhi says: “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.” The second principle is to resist evil and oppression with all our might but never with violence. This resistance without retaliation means we are no longer controlled by violence. We are converted from the religion of the world so burdened with superstition that only violence works and with dread that love will make us perish.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus represents and calls forth the possibility of loving all people fearlessly. It is a universal vocation to loving-kindness. We can love those who hate us because Jesus does and because his heart is in us. This is what is meant by “Love your enemies.” This gives us a greater task than that of opposing violence and speaking truth to the war-making powers. We are here to love them and by that love and our witness to convert them to the love in the Sacred Heart. Revelation 15:4 says: “All nations shall come and worship.” As we said above, devotion is not personal but cosmic. We are not here to find our own path to heaven but to bring all humanity, including and especially our leaders, to heaven with us too. How do we do this? We take in and hold the tension of life-crushing fear and death-dealing aggression, instead of giving it back in kind. We hold death as Mary held the dead body of Christ at the foot of the cross, long enough that it may rise into a new way of living. Our hearts become alchemical vessels in which the dark lead of bullets becomes the gold of wedding bands. We take in/away violence and give it back as redemptive suffering. This is the meaning of our call to co-redemption. We join Jesus who lost out to the forces of death and darkness and thereby opened the path to life and resurrection.
Jesus saves us by taking our human violence into his Heart and giving back grace and redemption. His not retaliating means retaliation has been abolished as a valid human choice. We do that now for others. When aggression comes to us, we turn away from it. If that is impossible, we hold it and diffuse it by not retaliating against it. We take in hate and give back love, take in execution and give back forgiveness, take in persecution and give back blessing. This is how we return good for evil and this makes us disciples of the Sacred Heart. We do this meekly and humble of heart not as one-up or as more advanced than others. We are giving what has come through us not from us.
In the Gospel, the Heart of Jesus was touched when he noticed that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. Our hearts are touched when we behold sad events and injustices on the news or in our own circle of friends. We can take their pain into our hearts and pray that reconciliation and healing come to all those who suffer. We are co-redeemers in this practice. This is how we courageously join the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Our predisposition to fight/flee/freeze can be refined by a spiritual commitment to the alternative of standing in love with arms outstretched. St. Stephen, the first martyr, died with forgiveness and non-retaliation in his heart. His last words, as he was being cruelly stoned to death by his enemies, were: “Do not hold this sin against them.” Acts 7:60 We also read that “his eyes gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God.” Acts 7:55 This can mean that he had found the strength to forgive and be nonviolent by transcending his own limited ego and entering Christ consciousness. He did not look into his ego for courage but into his larger Self, Christ within. We all have that identity beyond our ego name: our real “names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20
The openness of the Sacred Heart of Christ and of all the saints has always been a yes to wounds, a yes to compassion, a yes to giving and receiving love, a yes to bringing peace no matter what the assaults or dangers. Only yes: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ… was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”” 2Cor 1:19-20
We as Christians participate in the only major religious tradition whose founder was executed by established authority. This is the political meaning of Good Friday: it is the domination system’s “No” to Jesus…. Easter is God’s “Yes” to Jesus and his vision, and God’s “No” to the domination system…. Jesus is Lord; the powers of the world are not.
Love one another in your hearts, and if anyone sin against you, speak with him in peace and banish the venom of hatred. Let not revenge abide in your heart.
– Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, 107 B.C.