TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Sometimes silence is more eloquent than words

I hope you have taken the time to read the good news of our WYD pilgrims, who have joined the millions with Pope Francis for WYD in Krakow. I have certainly enjoyed reading about their journey in the Footsteps of the Saints, and seeing the great joy depicted in the many photographs, video blogs and Instagram messages.

The weekend reading from St Paul to the Colossians (3:1-5, 9-11) speaks of seeking the things that are above, where Christ is. He says; “Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.” The old self must die and we have to put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator.

As you may be aware, I frequently speak of nonviolence as a way of life in my messages. I have begun to read a book written by John Dear, a long-time peace activist and author, Thomas Merton: Peacemaker Meditations on Merton, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (New York, Orbis Books, 2015). 

Dear is writing of Thomas Merton celebrating the century of his birth (2015), sharing Merton’s meditations and profound contribution to the practice and spirituality of peacemaking and indeed nonviolence.

On page 19 he quotes from another of his books, Gandhi on Nonviolence (New York: New Directions, 1964), 6. I am sharing this with you because it spoke to me of the way forward for each of us and indeed the whole community.

Nonviolence is for Gandhi the basic law of our being. That is why it can be used as the most effective principle for social actions, since it is in deep accord with the truth of humanity’s nature and corresponds to humanity’s innate desire for peace, justice, order, freedom and personal dignity. Since violence degrades and corrupts humanity, to meet force with force and hatred with hatred only increases humanity’s progressive degeneration. Nonviolence, on the contrary, heals and restores humanity’s nature, while giving humanity means to restore social order and justice. Nonviolence is not a policy for the seizure of power. It is a way of transforming relationships so as to bring about a peaceful transfer of power, effected freely and without compulsion by all concerned, because all have come to recognize it as right. Since nonviolence is in humanity’s nature itself, it can be learned by all…. All should be willing to engage in the risk and wager of nonviolence because violent policies have not only proved bankrupt but threaten humanity with extinction.

And then by chance, I came across a blog (22 July 2016) written by Larry Greenfield, the Executive Director, Parliament of the World’s Religions (Global Interfaith Movement) – We Resist Despair: A Recommitment to Nonviolence (parliamentofreligions.org)

The Parliament of the World’s Religions has a commitment to address issues of violence. It is one of three critical issues that hold priority in its mission and work.

The recent rash of egregious violence has been shocking; not only because of the sheer number of incidents, their frequency, their aberrant severity, and the number of lives lost and injured, though all of these are important in their own right.

It is disturbing because of the trends that have begun to emerge. Violence, it seems, is increasingly being employed as a method of resolving personal, interpersonal, social, political, and religious conflict. It is showing itself as a common response to everything from petty objection to deep rage, and in the last few weeks, revenge.

It’s been little more than a generation since a nonviolent movement for civil rights succeeded in liberating America from the shackles of much of the unapologetic institutionalized racism. Yet the insidious roots of racism have continued to sprout, often lethally in instances of police brutality. And we are now seeing violent reaction.

Recent political rhetoric indicates that two of the most visible superpowers on earth - the UK and the US - intend to reject the building blocks upon which they were founded: those of a pluralistic, united, “better together” society. New building blocks are being constructed to create borders and walls.

Our national military ideologies directly and indirectly contribute to a culture of killing, both “at home and abroad,” by teaching our soldiers and citizens that it is acceptable to kill other human beings because someone has designated them as “the enemy.” Military violence has reached extreme levels of both normalization and depersonalization as our drones mechanistically murder “targets” and civilians alike. 

The message is clear: “We are giving up on peace.”

The result is the rejection of human beings from equal inclusion in both our cultures and territories, whether they be fellow citizens or future neighbours. 

In 2015, the Parliament of the World’s Religions called those gathered in Salt Lake City, and our community around the world, to endorse a declaration decrying War, Violence, and Hate Speech, and to commit to bringing about transformative action on a personal and societal level.

Over the past year, the Parliament has responded to several tragic world events, through spiritual meditation and prayer, through training, through resources for reflection and education, through solidarity and embodied solidarity, through “sorrow and distress,” through calls to action, and through reminders of the past.

But as our world goes through these cycles of strife, I urge you on behalf of the Parliament to:

  • Recommit to the material presented in the declaration against War, Violence, and Hate Speech from the 2015 Parliament.
  • Resist the temptation to be satisfied with simple, uncomplicated answers. The incidents of violence, hate, and exclusivist rhetoric around our globe stem from a multitude of factors, and to pick one to the exclusion of others ignores the nuances of and motivations behind each tragedy. Don’t distance yourself from the issues because they don’t touch you, or remove yourself from the challenge of making this world better because it seems like a futile effort. Instead, allow yourself to be confused, to be shocked, to be hurt, and use that emotion to spur your personal action.
  • Remind yourself that there is wisdom and power both within and beyond yourself. Draw on the best parts of your religious traditions. Dig into the wealth of accumulated knowledge that comprises your faith. Even as you recognize your own power, join together with others; it is easier to be discouraged, to feel futility, when you are acting alone.
  • Remember the times when non-violent action made a difference. Remember Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Buber, Khān Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, Toyohiko Kagawa, Nelson Mandela, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. Stand with the people who are seeking reform at all levels, with government and law enforcement officials who are trying compassionately to de-escalate extremism and to reach out to those in society who might be prone to extremist ideology and targeted violence. Violence speaks quickly and loudly. Working for peace is long and arduous, but the results resonate and have the power to be world-changing.

I consider his words to be a powerful reminder to us, of our duty to be exemplary people who can resist the temptation to embrace hate, violence and war, but also to be silent and immobile in the face of hostility and conflict. We, as people of faith, are people of compassion, care, mercy, reconciliation, hope, mutuality and peace. The disciplines of nonviolence will assist in our achieving justice, so that humanity is able to live at peace across the globe.

The theme chosen for this year’s WYD was “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). Pope Francis called upon the young people of the world to be Pope Franciscourageous. He invited them to have the courage to exercise the power of mercy and forgiveness to heal the world. He went on to say:

People may judge you to be dreamers because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own tradition without being self-centred or small-minded.

Apart from thinking of the future, he reminded them to hold the memory of the past and to speak with their grandparents and elders. I hope some of you saw the silent images of Pope Francis while he visited Auschwitz and Birkenau Camps. He chose not to speak because words fail us in the presence of such cruelty and evil. By his mere actions he invites us to stop and pray. Please take the time to be dreamers of a new humanity through prayer, solidarity and action.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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