When I last wrote we were on the threshold of the Winter Olympics in Sochi over which hung the threat of terrorism.
Now we are within two days of the Olympics being over and while, thanks be to God, no terrorist act has yet occurred, just a few hours from Sochi Ukraine is in the depths of violent unrest, perhaps even on the threshold of a civil war.
While reflecting positively on events in Europe in 1989 with the collapse of the old Soviet Empire Bl. John Paul in his encyclical CENTESIMUS ANNUS noted: Where society is so organized as to reduce arbitrarily or even suppress the sphere in which freedom is legitimately exercised, the result is that the life of society becomes progressively disorganized and goes into decline. [# 25.2] …..Europe cannot live in peace if the various conflicts which have arisen as a result of the past are to become more acute because of a situation of economic disorder, spiritual dissatisfaction and desperation.[# 28.2]
In looking forward to the post-soviet era world, not just in Europe but everywhere on earth where human beings dwell in national communities Bl. John Paul also noted that: Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ Himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice. [#58]
People have lived within the boundaries of modern Ukraine for tens of thousands of years and like most European countries Ukraine has a history marked by conquest time and again as the various dominate empires ebbed and flowed so that in the aftermath of WWI Ukraine was but an afterthought, largely ignored by the leaders of the peace conference in Paris 1919, thus subsequently being engulfed in a war between Poland and the emerging Soviet Union, resulting in a further fractioning of the country with the Soviets getting the lion’s share and between then, through the great famine, Stalinist oppression, the Second World War and its aftermath several millions, if not tens of millions of Ukrainians would be killed, starved, be deported to the Gulag. Finally becoming independent with the collapse of the Soviet Empire is it any wonder the people are violently resisting being absorbed into Putin’s empire?
The Church, and as Her voice the Popes, always urge non-violent means of struggle, the revolution of tenderness if you will, rather than recourse to various forms of armed insurrection.
Perhaps no Pope has spoken about this tension between non-violent resistance and the immense pressure to throw off the yoke of tyranny as eloquently as Pope Paul VI in his encyclical POPULORUM PROGRESSIO reflecting on situations where the injustice cries out to heaven he noted:….a revolutionary uprising – save where there is manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country – produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters. [#’s 30-31]
The above was erroneously seen in its day as an approval of armed revolution, which it clearly is not.
It is however a recognition of human reality both that sometimes oppressed people rebel but at the same time rebellions are inherently risky as you never know [Iran is a classic example] what the aftermath will be.
The challenge is to follow the teachings of Jesus about love, forgiveness, turning the other cheek.
It is MY challenge to become the one person I can reasonably be sure, or at least hope, will be a peacemaker, a revolutionary of non-violent tenderness: I.
While it is true in his Exhortation Pope Francis is calling us to action, revolutionary action within the Joy of the Gospel, primarily he is calling us to a profound personal conversion where the revolution begins within myself is to overcome ego, greed, self-centeredness, prejudice, etc., etc.
…Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us…..[#9]
Be it the ongoing oppression in Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, countless other nations, perhaps only sections within nations [each of us in our own countries can discover, if we willingly look, those who are oppressed], the challenge of the revolution of tenderness is also to enter deeply into the luminous truth of the Gospel, for the Gospel, Jesus Himself is about the kingdom of God [cf. Lk. 4:43]; it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that He reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society. [# 180] Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be regulated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without a concern for the soundness of evil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society…….An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. [# 183]
The challenge is to impact the human family for its betterment, for the spread of justice and freedom, love and hope, just distribution of the world’s food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine, etc., MUST begin within my own heart, my own immediate family, neighbourhood, in a word IF I am not a revolutionary of love’s tenderness for the people immediately in my life, if I cannot see Jesus next to me, I will never hear the cry of the poor from over the horizon!
As I approach the end of these reflections on Pope Francis’ Exhortation unrest is erupting also in Venezuela, the United Nations has finally started to raise its voice about the crimes against humanity which are the daily reality of our brothers and sisters in North Korea, the Central African Republic, Somalia – frankly if we were to take a map of the world and look at each country with the eyes of our hearts, then truly we would begin to hear the cry of entire peoples….[#190]…the cry of the poor [#191…..with open hearts, strengthened by the Holy Spirit we would begin not simply to live the Gospel but to incarnate it in our very lives and thus We incarnate the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others…[#193]….Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by His words and His actions [#161].
As I was writing someone called the hermitage and told me about a handicapped man who in the extreme cold of this northern city is out on a downtown corner each morning handing out a metro paper which is distributed free of charge and how the person phoning me noticed the man’s coat was threadbare, his shoes not proper for this climate and suddenly this person was moved to take the man to a fine clothing store, buy for him a warm coat, winter boots.
THIS is how we bring about the revolution of light and hope; THIS is how we build the civilization of love, one person to person incarnated act of love, respect, dignity, hope, kindness; THIS is how we clothe Christ, love Him, touch Him for truly if I want to touch God I need only reach out to the embrace of another human being.
There is much more in the Exhortation not touched upon here.
Here in these essays I have simply tried to give a sort of incentive for everyone to meditatively read, and then live out, this call to the JOY OF THE GOSPEL, to embrace, be converted by, live out generously, selflessly, joyfully the life of Christ within our own lives truly imitating Jesus whose sacrifice on the Cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way He lived His entire life. Moved by His example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world…[#269]….Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.[#270]
During the Vietnam War I had returned from a massive anti-war rally feeling pretty good about myself in that I was raising my voice along with thousands of others against the war.
It was a hot summer’s evening when I was out in the countryside helping friends bring in hay from the land of a very poor family unable to afford to farm, but willing to rent their small acreage to my friends whose farm was extensive.
I recall sitting on the porch with the man whose land it was.
He had offered us some cold beer.
For him this was very generous as he had so little.
Flush with my anti-war intensity I asked him what he thought about the war.
He took a sip of his beer, paused and said simply: “Well I figure there’s a man over there like me. It’s end of a hard day of work. His wife is in the kitchen, cooking and singing. His children are out playing in the field. I don’t hate him, he doesn’t hate me, so why should they tell us to kill each other? That be what I think about it.”