by Sister Madeleine, O.S.A.
Long road to freedom
VIOLENCE is still a fashionable conversation piece. You ask (non-violently, of course), whether violence is to be condemned or condoned? Whether the verdict would hold for all cases or admit exceptions? What was Christ's attitude to violence? What should be the Christian's? How concerned and relevant one sounds!
And yet it is enough to read accounts of actual violent situations in Belfast or Mexico or Italy to feel ashamed not so much of speculating while others suffer but of dissolving the real issues into abstract questions such as the above.
The issue is never, in the concrete situations, one of mentally approving or not of violence. The issue will be about low wages or inadequate housing, about unequal opportunities in education, work, leisure, about discrimination because you are coloured or poor or female.
The victims in such situations already experience violence in the repressive force of laws or attitudes, of economic or social structures.
You cannot free your shoulders of such a violent yoke except by violent rebellion against it. It will not dissolve after much dreaming or desiring. It must be destroyed.
But the problem is: can you smash systems and structures without smashing people? Can you free oppressed persons without destroying other persons? How to stop the vicious circle in which the liberators become tyrants, the imprisoned jailers, the humiliated humiliators?
It is not at all easy to find answers in the gospel. Jesus was, on the one hand, a -judgment upon the rich. Like the great Hebrew prophets of the eighth, seventh and sixth centuries before him, and like today's revolutionaries, he took up the cause of the exploited and oppressed. He condemned injustice and greed and discrimination.
But. on the other hand. he did not organise a bloody revolt of the poor; he did not join the Jewish national liberation movement against the Romans. At his arrest he not only made it dear that he would permit no other blood but his own to be shed but he asserted that it was self destructive: "Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." And this surely applies as much to a guerrilla in Colombia as to an American in Vietnam.
He was so like a revolutionary that he could be charged with inciting insurrection. He was so unlike one that he could be condemned only upon false witness. He protested continually and made many enemies. But he destroyed no one and forgave all.
Yes, it is a long road to freedom, but following Jesus offers no short cut.