Prepare your heart to turn towards peace
"Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” As we prepare the way for the Lord, John the Baptist challenges us to face the most difficult realities in our lives and in our world.
Ours is a culture that too often encourages magical thinking: Protect corporations and billionaires, and wealth will trickle down to poor and working families. Fight wars to achieve peace. End crime and undocumented migration by hiding people away in prisons. End racism by not talking about racism. Simply think about what you want, and it will manifest itself. Again and again, we are told to hide, destroy, or ignore what is hard or painful, and trust that good things will be ours.
Out of the desert and into this cacophony of snake oil sales pitches appears John with a different kind of prescription: go to the hard place. Do the work of healing and reconciliation.
John’s call is echoed in the gospel call to nonviolence. When we commit to nonviolence, we recognize different forms of violence and our participation. We must repent of violence – whether direct, physical violence or systemic and structural violence, the violence of attack and exploitation or that of exclusion and indifference.
The very word nonviolence speaks to this discernment: it is not simply non-violence, or the absence of violence. Nonviolence requires that we recognize violence and its root causes in order to resist and transform it.
Let us consider our interior attitudes and interpersonal relationships, but also engage in social analysis: how do I participate in structures that perpetuate violence? Economic exploitation, racism and other forms of discrimination, the destruction of the environment and contribution to climate change are all forms of violence. When we vote for leaders who spend trillions of dollars on weapons while failing to fund human needs, and we pay taxes into that system, we are complicit in violence.
In committing to nonviolence, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners have identified three ways nonviolence is expressed vis-à-vis violence: prevention, intervention, and restoration/reconciliation. The second step is like the sacrament of reconciliation: intervention requires naming and repenting sinful behavior. Restoration and reconciliation mean rebuilding right relationships. And prevention means developing new behaviors that seek the common good.
Nonviolence is the path to peace with justice: it produces “fruit in keeping with repentance.” As we prepare the way for the Lord, let us identify and repent of the violence in our lives.
Questions for Reflection:
What is a crooked path in your life that blocks peace?
Who is a voice in the wilderness calling you to turn toward peace?
O Lord, who has mercy on all, take away from me my sins and mercifully kindle in me the fire of your Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, a heart to love and adore you, a heart to delight in you, to follow and to enjoy you, for Christ’s sake.
- Saint Ambrose
When the divine enters into human affairs, it defies human logic, confounds human expectations, and usually goes unrecorded in important news outlets. This is what is known by scripture scholars as the "divine reversal." God is definitely human and acting in our world. And humans are reversing the age-old ways of selfishness, greed and violence, and instead acting in divine fashion. This is what the divine reversal means.
- Father Frank Breen