Teach us to be gentle

This reflection was first published in 2014 and although it makes reference to the events of that time, our world continues to suffer through violence.

In the Roman Catholic Mass, as part of the introductory words to the penitential act – that part of the liturgy where we look at ourselves in the light of God’s love and God’s invitation to us to grow into that love and goodness – the celebrant invites us to draw close to God, “for he is full of gentleness and compassion”.  I have always loved those words.  God is full of gentleness.  The invitation is warm and comforting.  The words elicit trust, inspiring confidence and peace, a soothing balm for the hurts of life, those arising from both within and without.  Our world is greatly in need of gentleness.  This past week we have been reeling with the violence done to our fellow human beings – the violence of the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 and the violence in Gaza and Israel.  The Palestinian death toll has now reached 700 and the Israelis are suffering death and casualties too.  Unspeakable horror, in both cases, inflicted upon people who lived and loved, whose lives were deeply entwined with others in relationships of friendship, love and care, who had dreams and plans and gifts to bring to our world.  Sadly, the violence done to these, our sisters and brothers, has been increased through hampered recovery efforts in the case of the airliner tragedy and sharp words of blame and revenge.  As we watch the unfolding of such horror, we are moved to shock, outpourings of sadness, confusion, outrage. 

And yet there is that insistent affirmation:  He is full of gentleness and compassion.

We need to speak gentleness, seek gentleness, act gentleness, choose gentleness.  Violence can never be stopped through more violence.  And why not?  Because in a violent response, the very act condemned, the violence itself, is the means of the condemnation.  It breeds further resentment and greater wrongs to be righted, more deep-seated grudges to be addressed.  Fire cannot be overcome with fire.  It must be quenched.  A response to violence with violence loses its moral authority.  ‘Do what I say and not what I do’, is the confused message.  Jesus spoke very clearly about this.  “If someone slaps you on the cheek offer the other”, he said.  This is not a response of weakness or timidity, nor does it suggest that violence is acceptable; rather it is an invitation to break the cycle of violence.  Don’t respond in kind.  Another kind of response is needed.   And Jesus himself modelled that other kind of response too.  Remember Peter, drawing his sword and cutting off the soldier’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus.  He was rebuked for that.  Another kind of strength is needed.        

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator