From the Secretariat November 2014
Last Saturday we celebrated the solemnity of All Saints. And on Sunday we commemorated All Soul’s Day. In these days of prayer, we celebrated and drew inspiration from the saints and honoured our dead. Recognising our communion with them, how do their lives speak to us in today’s world? How did they face the griefs and anxieties of their times?
How can we remain committed to peace-making and continue to seek justice in a world recoiling from the fear of terrorism, divided by extremism, violence and drawn towards war?
I would like to draw from the wisdom of a young woman of 14 years of age, who returned to school in August following the violent death of her mother. I believe I can learn from her and that she has something worthwhile to say about peace-making, particularly at times when it is difficult to do so.
In the first week back at school, her religion class was given the debating topic, ‘Good always triumphs over evil’. I read the speech and asked the young woman and her extended family if I could share it with you in this briefing. They said yes.
Here are her words:
Turn on the television news any night of the week and your room will be filled with bad news. It seems like evil always defeats goodness.
Investigators struggle to get to the bombed airliner in Ukraine. The Israeli army destroys a school full of Palestinian children. Tens of thousands of Iraqis flee Islamic fighters and are stranded on a mountain in northern Iraq. War and famine in south Sudan put the lives of 50,000 children at risk. A man is shot in a car park in Leichhardt and stumbles to the street where he dies.
This night my father turned off the TV and said, ‘What good can come of all of this?’
The statement, ‘Good always triumphs over evil’ does not seem true in the face of the bad things we see around the world.
What answer can I find to my dad’s question and who has the wisdom to help me find the answer? I need to listen to people who have endured the greatest evil and always held on to the hope that good always triumphs.
Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian people in peaceful protest against the British. He said, ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.’
Think also of Martin Luther King Jr. who led his people in the face of racist persecution in America. He said, ‘I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.’
Most of all, for us, Jesus Christ gave the greatest advice on how we should respond to evil. He broke from the old law of “An eye for an eye” and said that we must respond to evil with love. He said, “do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; …Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:38-39,44-45)
This is a big challenge, how can I respond to evil with goodness? How can I show love or forgiveness to someone who would want to kill me or my family? I have started by listening to these three wise men. They were so good but they were brutally murdered in cold blood and suffered the violence of evil. It is like the world could not cope with their goodness but, at the same time, the world could not destroy their goodness.
Good always overcomes evil and their words and deeds live on. Because Jesus overcame evil and rose from the dead, he gives us hope that good will always triumph. He actually shows us the way that good can always come from the evil around us.
Discord and violence can have different dynamics and levels of intensity depending on the context; be it interpersonal, among communities or between nations. Some may even find it naive to apply the Christ-like response in a personal tragedy to a global terror the like of which we see in Syria and Iraq.
But the one Christ-like quality that is the essential basis of true peace-making at all levels and in any context is basic concern for the dignity of the person – even the aggressor. This young woman’s strength can be seen in her refusal to be captured by hatred or driven by a desire for revenge. The same quality can guide a response to evil and violence, whether that is through peace-making, the defence of ourselves or others, or the pursuit of justice and in restoring right relations.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ recently wrote in Eureka Street of how punishment is not the way to peace. Speaking of the global war on terror, he observed how a focus on retributive justice and the vilification of the aggressor or offender will not save the day; ‘the means taken to prosecute the war threaten to poison the peace that they are meant to achieve’.
He quoted at length the words of Pope Francis in his 23 October address to the International Association of Criminal Law:
Not only are scapegoats sought to pay with their freedom and their life for all the social evils, as was typical in primitive societies, but beyond this sometimes there is the tendency to construct enemies deliberately: stereotype figures, who concentrate in themselves all the characteristics that the society perceives or interprets as menacing. The mechanisms of formation of these images are the same ones that once made possible the spread of racist ideas.
Reflecting on these words of the Holy Father, Fr Andrew says:
Those who play at war play for high stakes. But the best way to peace and security is not to wage war on people but to be curious about them – on what makes them safe, on what leads them to criminal acts, on how we can intervene to help them make good connections with society, and on how we can best prevent them from returning them to jail. Reflection and care are always better than war.
In this sense we realise that peace-making is not easy. Turning the cheek or loving the enemy can so easily be portrayed as ineffectual or illogical when scapegoats are being sought or the enemy is being pursued.
The words of all of these people and the young woman who lost her mother remind us of the hard work of peace – anger not succumbing to violence and revenge, proportionate force in defence of others, finding alternatives to violence; restoring the dignity of victims; acknowledging the dignity of the aggressor, building a lasting peace through reconciliation and a restorative justice.
The words of these people remind us of the generations of women and men – some of them saints – who have worked tirelessly for peace and sometimes against all odds. Their words and deeds can strengthen our resolve that good always triumphs over evil.
National Executive Officer