1st Reading: Acts 15:1-2.22-29; Psalm: 67. R. v. 4; 2nd Reading: Rev 21:10-14.22-23; Gospel: Jn 14:23-29
WHAT NEXT WHEN VIOLENCE OPPRESSES LOVE?
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
On Thursday the 12th day of May 2022, Deborah Samuel a 19 year old Nigerian student of Economics department in a College of Education in Sokoto state was gruesomely murdered through a religiously motivated mob action. Her Muslim course mates accused her of blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed and consequently stoned and burnt her to death beyond recognition. Her murderers boldly videoed the horrible act and proudly displaying their face while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The culprits were later arrested and detained. What followed after was quite revealing.
While a handful of Muslims condemned this evil act, another sect of Muslim youth took to the streets protesting the detention of the culprits through arson and threat to life. These religious expressions and divide goes to show that there are those who denounce the evil of killing in the name of religion and those who see killing as a form of religious expression. Take it or leave it, whether as a form of religious expression or not, evil is a way of life to certain people.
Last Sunday, we reflected on loving just as Jesus loved us. Today, we will go further to reflect realistically on loving, the possible reactions we get from loving and our response to them accordingly. In the gospel of today, Jesus again began with the following words “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23). Put differently, Jesus was saying that if we love him, we will keep his word which is the command to love one another just as he loved us.
It appears Jesus only commanded us to love but did not consider or specify exactly how loving should adapt in the possible different circumstances of life that affects us directly. Jesus’ further statement that the coming of the Holy Spirit (the Counsellor) will teach us all things meant that the Holy Spirit will enlighten and guide us to respond adequately to loving and to know how to properly react when the acts of loving are affected by human imperfections and the circumstances influencing our environments and behaviours. Jesus was asking for a perfect kind of love in flawed creatures. So inasmuch as he wanted us to love just like him, he also expected that the world will rebuff and abuse this love in response to it. So how should we react to this?
The dissension and division among the Jewish and Gentile Christians on circumcision in the first reading of today already reveals how flawed the followers of Christ were in loving and cherishing Christian unity. We see some kind of people among them who cherished traditional customs to Christian love and unity. This implies that while others chose to love and unite, there are some others who preferred to hate and divide. Discrimination, stereotype and hate existed even among the early Christians. In life, we can choose to love and promote unity but there are definitely those who don’t subscribe to this. They prefer the opposite. How do we react to this?
To what extent should we love when we keep getting hate in return? To what extent? What should we do when our life and happiness is threatened by the incessant hatred and deliberate evil actions of others? Should we keep loving? To what extent? If the man we love is a sadist who doesn’t respect the dignity of our gender and body, should we keep loving him? To what extent? To what extent should we love a husband who has mastered domestic violence as a way to exert his masculinity and control over us? To what extent should we endure a spouse who don’t value our feelings but only sees us as an object of gratification and scorn? To what extent? To what extent should we tolerate a group of religious bigots who have been indoctrinated to belief that Christians are infidels and killing them is doing service to Allah? To what extent? When a people only understand the language of hate, love becomes a waste when expended on them.
I am not telling us to stop loving, but some circumstances in life should demand that we make informed choices based on critical ethical reasoning. Seeking our good and preserving our own lives is an act of love too. When the man or woman we claim to love occasionally beats and inflicts physical injury on us, does our common sense and human conscience not say something to us? A spouse who has become habituated to domestic violence deserves the lawful punishment due to it. Sometimes punitive measures can also serve as a form of rehabilitation. In a marriage where domestic violence exists, life is threatened. In this case, seeking separation (not divorce) is an informed choice. When our kindness or love towards a person or a neighbour annoys and irritates them, withdraw the love and stop wasting it. There are many people who need it. We should not hate, but only pray for that neighbour.
In the early stages of the Church’s life, violence was never an option. Christians endured and avoided persecution and would never lift a hand against an enemy. Over time, upon critical ethical reflection, the Doctors of the Church and Magisterium made an informed decision that there are circumstances in which self defence is justified because love and preservation of one’s life is a fundamental principle of morality. Remember that the first command of Jesus on love was that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. This means that the love of self is also fundamental.
So what then happens when an aggressor picks up a weapon to kill us or our family? Should we just sit and watch that happen? Picking up arms to fight back is justifiable. But the motive of our confrontation must be for self defence. Because the life of every human being is as important as our own life. We should attack to disarm but not to kill. Killing is the last resort when all options are exhausted. Even in war or pogrom, self defence is a necessity. This is why to save a community from total annihilation; the military can justifiably exterminate a group of aggressors when it becomes difficult to disarm them.
To every human being, it is a necessity to adhere to the call to love and to avoid any form of anger or violence inciting comments or attitudes. But since man is flawed by nature, defiance to this ethos should be expected. Some people have mastered violence and evil as a way of life. It is unfortunate. We are not called to judge them because we do not know the circumstances surrounding their upbringing. Perhaps we could have been like them if exposed to similar circumstances and environment that influenced their formation. We only pray and hope they change through other possible ethical human influences.
God gave us all the gift of introspection. So, on our part as beneficiaries of this gift, we need to reflect on certain questions like ‘Why am I hated by people or by certain persons?’ ‘Why do people frown or get angry at the sight of me?’ ‘Why would someone want to kill me?’ ‘Is there something about me I need to pay attention to?’ Personal introspection such as this can open a blind part of us we need to improve on. This is because people don’t just choose to hate us. They hate us for a reason.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, you know we are flawed creatures. Please, guide us to love adequately and make good choices for the common good of all. Amen