"War and Contemplation"
October 25, 2023, 6:00 AM

Franciscan Fractal: “War and Contemplation”

A contemplating today’s culture through the eyes of St. Francis.

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to [the Pharisee] love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 22:36-40

St. Francis knew much about the violence of war. As a young soldier in his country’s army, he witnessed and experienced violence. Subsequently, he lived nonviolently, loving everyone unconditionally since all people embodied a spark of God.

Today, the war between Israel and Hamas is as violent and inhumane as they come. Mass murders, mutilations, annihilation of villages, kidnappings of families and children are all horrendous. Reaction to these atrocities range from abhorrence to grief, despair, anger, and a desire to seek revenge meted out to the abusers. Seeking revenge is an internal knee-jerk reaction to take sides and punish the “other,” depending on an understanding of the situation or the latest news coverage.

In the Scripture passage for this week, all three major religions (Judaism, Muslim, and Christian) would agree with a core belief that a person must love God (Allah) first and your neighbor as yourself. How this is interpreted and implemented is a different matter. If loving God and neighbor is a fundamental belief of all three, what has gone awry? How has “violence” subverted “love?”

The answer does not rest inside any of the religions, but surprisingly inside each of us. We know Jesus’ commandment to love “your neighbor as yourself.” For our minds to understand what constitutes love, wisdom from God is required. It’s often easier to take the opinion of a newscaster as wisdom than to discern insight from God.

We may love God with our heart and soul, but Christ says that we also need to love God with our entire Mind. A mind cannot become clear by itself, especially in this era of information and disinformation that clutters our thoughts.

Remember that God loves the core of every human being, and that includes those who identify as Christian, Jewish, Palestinian, and even members of Hamas. God’s essence is to love the spark of divinity in each and every person, no matter what they have done. All God’s children are indeed ALL God’s children, even when they go astray. Seeking revenge is not God’s way.

The consequence of us enacting revenge is to create another group of revengeful people. Sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters of those who might be killed will undoubtedly rise up in another generation to seek their own “justice” by exacting revenge in retaliation. And, the cycle continues in the form of mimetic violence mimicking what has previously transpired.

Despite this convoluted landscape, we are promised that we will not be forsaken. The way out of the cycle of mimetic violence – a reoccurring violence which is certain to happen in the Israel-Hamas war and Ukraine-Russia calamity – requires two components that are missing in almost every peace endeavor. (The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a notable exception.)

The first component is honesty declaring the details of what happened. This includes ownership of the violence committed by those who have committed atrocities, and is done in the presence of those who have suffered or witnessed the crimes. The second component is forgiveness. Without incorporating forgiveness into the peace process, there will be no peace ever. Christ’s life is the master teacher of forgiveness and subsequent reconciliation.

The reality is that everyone who holds a grudge against another person is culpable for extending mimetic violence in this world. That is why contemplation and prayer is so important. In contemplation, we let go of our preconceived notions of “right” and “wrong.” We let go of anger, resentment, vengeance, and our own insecurities. We begin to see clearly into situations that have confounded us. We see God’s hand in all things, and we find solutions. Our enemies are seen only as children of God, and it is possible to envision them as neighbors. God’s hope then becomes our reality.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John