GOSPEL NONVIOLENCE: OPTION OR OBLIGATION: Keeping before one’s eyes the supreme law of the Church
Here are two questions, which for forty years, I have been trying to get every Catholic Bishop, including Popes—not their clerical public relations surrogates— to publicly answer with a straight, “Yes,” or “No.” One: Does Jesus in the Gospels, who comes “to do only the will of my Father,” teach by His words and by His deeds a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies unto death for those He has chosen to be His disciples? Two: If He does, is following Jesus’ Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies unto death intrinsically essential for the salvation of souls?
Canon §1752, the final words of the final canon in the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law state, “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.” The eternal salvation of one and all is the reason for the Incarnation and everything else that follows in the life of Jesus of Nazareth up to and including His Resurrection. The eternal salvation of human beings is therefore the reason the Church exists. It is the essential mission of Jesus and therefore must be the essential mission of the Church. Hence it must be “the supreme law of the Church,” against which everything the institutional Church and its official personnel do must be measured in order to judge whether it serves or detracts from the particular and universal salvific mission of Jesus.
So in Jesus’ teaching, is His Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies intrinsically essential for the chosen disciples of the Christ to follow for the eternal salvation of each and all? If not, why not? If not, which of His teachings are essential for salvation, if any, and why? Why did He even bother teaching and living unto being tortured and murdered the Way of Nonviolent Love of enemies, if it had no essential relation to His mission of saving each and all from evil and death and bringing each and all into eternal Communion with the eternal God “who is love” (agapé)?
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jn 14:16). The mystery of salvation is as deep and as incomprehensible as the mystery of God, the mystery of life, the mystery of evil and the mystery of death. There are countless options in faiths and opinions in philosophies on how to understand and cope with each and all of these perpetually abiding mysteries within human existence. Jesus and the Way He teaches by word and embodies by deed is just one of the many options available from which to choose. So, why choose Jesus and His Way, especially in light of His so called “hard sayings,” e.g., “Love your enemies”; “Put up your sword”; “Do good to those who hate you”; “Pray for those who persecute you”; Bless those who curse you”; “If a person strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well”; “I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you”; “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me”; “Forgive seventy times seven times”; “Before Abraham was, I am”; “This is my body”; “This is my blood”?
There is only one authentic and sane and reasonable answer to the above question. It is the answer Peter gave to Jesus when His disciples were abandoning Him because His sayings were “hard.” As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer followed Him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Master to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God’ (Jn 6:66-69).
“You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God.” Those are the words of faith in the absolute spiritual and moral authority of Jesus, because He is “the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God,” who comes into this world, with the Word of God and as the Word of God, to save the people of Judaism and all people from the wickedness and death in which they are endlessly entrapped, bringing them unto the eternal Kingdom of God. Do those “words of eternal life” from the “Holy One” include the above noted “hard sayings” of Jesus? Yes or No? Let us for once have a straightforward, unequivocal, public answer from those who dare to stand before God, the Church and all humanity and represent themselves as the ultimate and definitive teachers of the Way of eternal life taught by Jesus.
If Bishops believe that those words spoken by Jesus are not “words of eternal life,” are not intrinsically essential for carrying out the supreme mission of Jesus and His Church, the salvation of souls, then let them forthrightly say so. If they believe those words of Jesus quoted above are only words of good advice to be followed when convenient, let them publicly tell that to God, the Church and all humanity. And let them—not their surrogates—explain what in the teaching of Jesus permits them to downgrade some or all of His “words of life” to suggestions that may or may not be applicable in some situations. It would also be fitting and right to hear from the official teachers what words take primacy over “the words of life” of “the Holy One of God” in the process of the eternal salvation of each and all. Perhaps, they believe Aristotle’s ‘golden mean’ does? Or, the orders of a president or the commands of a general do?
At the risk of sounding absurd, we have to ask Bishops and ourselves as Christians—and insist that we get a plain-spoken, uncontrived answer from both parties—do those “words of eternal life” quoted above from Jesus mean not only what they logically communicate but also mean that their logical opposite is a Way of eternal salvation for each and all, e.g., “Hate your enemies”; “Take up the sword”; “Do evil to those who hate you”; “Do not pray for those who persecute you”; “Curse those who curse you”; “If a person strikes you on one cheek, strike him on the other”; “I give you a new commandment, love one another as politicians, mass media and moguls tell you how to love one another”; “Ignore or use “the least” of this world, for whatever you do or do not do to them is irrelevant for they are the nobodies of human existence and have no meaning, purpose or lasting place in history”; “Forgive when it is in your interests to do so and get even when it is in your interests to do so”; “Jesus is to Abraham no more than Moses, David, Phineas, and Caiaphas are to Abraham, namely, a Jewish person in the Abrahamic historical faith lineage”; “This is not my body”; “This is not my blood”?
The principle of non-contradiction that governs all rational thought and communication states, “Between two logical and meaningful propositions, ‘X’ and ‘not-X’ there is no middle ground. If one is true the other is false.” Can this principle of rational thought and communication simply be set aside when it comes to the “hard sayings” of Jesus? Where would the justification be found in the teaching of Jesus for doing such a thing? It is not there! Yet, it is done and approved of by Bishops, their institutional Church administrators and congregations daily, as the normal way for understanding the “hard sayings” of Jesus. If this method of interpretation were employed with the declarative and imperative sentences of any other piece of literature, it would be universally denounced as Orwellian doublespeak.
Let those, who are the ultimate and definitive teachers of Jesus’ Way of eternal salvation—not their surrogates—explain how the most important words ever spoken in human history regarding the most important matters confronting all human beings—evil, death, eternal salvation—communicate not only what they clearly say is true, but also communicate that their logical opposites are true, e.g., loving your enemies as Jesus loved His enemies includes the possibility slitting enemies’ throats or incinerating enemies with a flame thrower and napalm on some occasions. For, this is what the Bishops of the Churches are teaching, have been teaching and/or allowing to be taught by their silence as a way to eternal salvation in those venues under their control. Venues—pulpits, Catholic (Christian) newspapers, TV and radio, Catholic (Christian) schools, religious education programs and seminaries—where Jesus’ “words of life” unto the eternal salvation of each and all must be the supreme law governing all that is said and done in them.
Is throat slitting, which is the logical opposite of what “love your enemies” means and which is an everyday act in a so called “just Christian war” as it is in all wars, a way to fulfill the supreme law of the Church or a way to fulfill the supreme commandment of Jesus, His “new commandment; love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34, 15:12)? This utterly unique and “new commandment” of Jesus the Church declares “is the new Law of the Holy Spirit,” which “contains the entire Law of the Gospel,” and “expresses His entire will” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1970, 2823, 782). It is the Way Jesus taught by His words and deeds unto eternal life. The new commandment is why, from the beginning, Jesus is called both the Way and the Life. Its logical opposite is, “Do not love as I have.” Is not loving as Jesus loved, e.g., killing and maiming enemies, also a way to eternal life? Is teaching a Catholic just war theory, with the approval of the Bishop from a Catholic pulpit or in a Catholic school, keeping before one’s eyes the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church? Eternal salvation through throat slitting?
Can there be a spiritually more dangerous evil than defying the Holy Spirit of Truth by toying with the salvation of souls by teaching what Jesus calls evil as “good,” by teaching as an alternative to Jesus’ Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies the way and words of self-reverential, self-referential and self-justifying violence? Violence—whether designated by humans as legitimate or illegitimate, legal or illegal, just or unjust, sanctioned or unsanctioned, romantic or sordid—as the Way of Jesus or as a Way endorsed by Jesus to eternal Communion with God for each and for all is a lie. It is the “Big Lie” of the institutional Churches and those who control their avenues of communication to the flock and to the humanity in general.
If bishops, priests, ministers, pastors and deacons do not want to teach the Way of eternal salvation of souls, all souls, taught by Jesus, and want instead to teach some humanly contrived alternative way to eternal salvation, e.g., killing other beloved sons and daughters of the Father of all because some politicians order them killed, then they have no business passing themselves off a ministers of Jesus’ mission on earth—the eternal salvation of all people.
Human beings, Christians and otherwise, are paying dearly and beyond all human calculation for Bishops and their institutional Churches continuing to cleverly sabotage the salvific teaching of Jesus’ Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies as the Way of discipleship. Jesus by His words and deeds reveals to humanity the love that is the only power that saves from evil and death and that brings human beings unto eternal life with God. It is the only power that saves because to “love as Jesus loves,” is to love as the God of love Incarnate loves. Such love is union with and participation in the very power of God, which is the only power that can vanquish evil and death and guarantee eternal life in Communion with God who is love (agapé). Christic love is the sole means of eternal salvation for each and all. Such love in thought, word and/or deed in any given moment of one’s life is always as small as a mustard seed and as powerless as a mustard seed appears from the outside. But such love and only such love contains within it the power of God. Such mustard-seed love and only such mustard-seed love is the Way of the eternal Kingdom of God. It is by planting little mustard seeds of Christlike love that Kingdom of God “springs up” (Mk 4:30-31; Mt13: 31-32; Lk 13:18-19). There is no other option!
And because God Incarnate, Jesus, taught and lived a Way of Nonviolent Love towards all—friends and enemies—the love that saves is as intrinsically and essentially nonviolent, as it is intrinsically and essentially non-adulterous and merciful. Neither violent love nor violent hate, regardless of their consequences in time, is an option if the desired end is the eternal salvation and happiness of one’s wife, children, grandchildren, mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, et al. Redemptive violent love, regardless how humans justify it, is not an option; it is an illusion—a non-reality.
Parenthetically, and for purposes of being as clear as possible, nonviolent external behavior, nonviolent tactics, nonviolent strategies, nonviolent programs without Christlike love are also not redemptive. Nonviolent external behavior is quite compatible with hate, envy, revenge, spite and every one of the capital sins. When external nonviolent behavior does not arise from Christlike love, it is, like violent love, just another “gong booming” (1 Cor 13).
Christlike love, which includes Jesus’ Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies, is first, foremost and above all else the Way by which each and all can enter into the eternal Kingdom of God. It may or may not serve other purposes in time, e.g., a means for altering evil behavior in others or in institutions. But, regardless of its efficacy in accomplishing some end we desire to achieve on earth, it is always efficacious in moving each person and all people toward an existence in eternal Communion with God. How the small mustard seed of Christlike love, which love intrinsically includes the Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies, works to accomplish this end God Incarnate, the Messiah Jesus, does not tell us. Jesus just tells us by His words and deeds this is the Way to the eternal Kingdom of God, to Eternal Life.
Within the unfathomable mysteries of existence and within the mystery of salvation is Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies, as presented by Jesus in the Gospels, mere good advice to be followed unless we can think of something better, or is it a mandatum for the salvation of all? Is it an option or an obligation? In truth before God and before all humanity, what say you Pope Francis, what say you Cardinals, what say you Bishops—Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant—what say you my fellow Christian?
—Emmanuel Charles McCarthy