Sunday, February 18, 2007

Loving your Enemies: Ending the Spiral of Violence

"Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you... If anyone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other cheek as well." (Lk 6:27, 29)

Today's Gospel reading is one of the texts that I always found difficult to preach about in the past, especially during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorial rule.

I remember telling my novice-master 30 years ago that I could not accept this teaching. Two years earlier I had been released from prison after being tortured and imprisoned for seven months. I told my novice-master - "How can you expect me to love and forgive my torturers?" To do so would be to condone the abuses, the human rights violation, and the oppression under the dictatorial rule.

After my mother was robbed and killed twenty years ago by a gang composed of off-duty military men, it became even more difficult to accept this teaching. Love and forgive those who killed her? Anger and the desire for revenge filled my heart. I was just waiting for the results of the snap election called by Marcos before making a decision whether leave the priesthood and join the armed struggle. I remember asking for a sign from a God that I found difficult to believe in.

One month after my mother's death, I received the news that those who killed my mother were killed in an encounter with the police while robbing another house. There was divine justice after all.

Another month later - on February 21-25, 1986 - the most unbelievable event took place - millions of people massed at EDSA after a failed coup attempt and faced the troops, tanks and helicopters of the Marcos dictatorial regime. The people were ready die but not to kill. Many were kneeling and praying in front of the tanks. Some girls were giving flowers to the soldiers. Women were giving the soldiers food. A priest was embracing a soldier. This was the gospel in action - love your enemies! After four days, the dictator stepped down and fled to Hawaii. No blood was shed.

Two years later, I witnessed a similar event in San Fernando, Bukidnon. Our mission team had been organizing and mobilizing the Basic Ecclesial Communities to struggle against the logging companies that were denuding the forests and destroying the environment. The people barricaded the roads, so that no logging trucks could pass. They fed the drivers of the logging trucks and treated them as friends. One day, while celebrating the mass in the barricade, a platoon of soldiers came to break up the barricade. They began beating the people with their truncheons. But the people, did not move and allowed themselves to be beaten without putting up a resistance. They continued singing the Our Father, while crying. They did not harbor any hatred or ill feelings towards the soldiers. And when the soldiers drag the parish priest to bring him to prison, the people also climbed the trucks because they too wanted to be imprisoned. The soldiers gave up and released the priest. This was reported in the newspapers and TV, and the conscience of the new president (Cory Aquino) was moved and she suspended the licences of the logging companies. A year later, the people continued their struggle and demanded a total log ban using the same peaceful, non-violent means. Their demand was granted and Bukidon became the first province where a total log ban was declared by the government.

These two events made me appreciate Christ's teaching about loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us. It does not mean tolerating evil or allowing injustice and oppression to continue. It means that in our struggle against evil, we are not driven by hatred or revenge but by love and compassion - for the enemies. It means being ready to suffer and die, but not to kill or make others suffer. It means not using evil means in our fight against evil. This requires ultimately forgiveness and reconciliation. This is that path of non-violence. This is the only way to end the spiral of violence. It only the power of love that can triumph over evil.

The great social transformations that have taken place in the 20th century were effected not by the use of force or arms, but by applying Christ's teaching of love and non-violent resistance. Mahatma Ghandi was inspired by the Sermon of the Mount and made it one of the inspiration of the non-violent struggle of the Indian people against the British Empire. Martin Luther King made use of it in the struggle for equal rights. Nelson Mandela and his movement succeeded in ending apartheid through non-violence. Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe also collapsed without bloodshed.

All of these followed the way of Jesus - the way of love and compassion, of peace and non-violence, the way of the cross.

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