By Dan Moriarty
Advent offers us all a special opportunity to grow in our relationship with God and to deepen our commitment to Jesus’ way of life, rooted in nonviolence.
The 2022 Advent Reflection Guide: Living Gospel Nonviolence from the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns contains reflections, questions, prayers, and actions based on each week’s Gospel reading and the experience of Maryknoll missioners who have lived and worked with marginalized communities impacted by injustice and violence conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Here, we share the weekly reflections on each Sunday’s Gospel reading.
It was of John that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” – Matthew 3:3
“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” As we prepare the way for the Lord, John the Baptist challenges us to face the most difficult realities in our lives and in our world.
Ours is a culture that too often encourages magical thinking: Protect corporations and billionaires, and wealth will trickle down to poor and working families. Fight wars to achieve peace. End crime and undocumented migration by hiding people away in prisons. End racism by not talking about racism. Simply think about what you want, and it will manifest itself. Again and again, we are told to hide, destroy, or ignore what is hard or painful, and trust that good things will be ours.
Out of the desert and into this cacophony of snake oil sales pitches appears John with a different kind of prescription: go to the hard place. Do the work of healing and reconciliation.
John’s call is echoed in the gospel call to nonviolence. When we commit to nonviolence, we recognize different forms of violence and our participation. We must repent of violence – whether direct, physical violence or systemic and structural violence, the violence of attack and exploitation or that of exclusion and indifference.
The very word nonviolence speaks to this discernment: it is not simply non-violence, or the absence of violence. Nonviolence requires that we recognize violence and its root causes in order to resist and transform it.
Let us consider our interior attitudes and interpersonal relationships, but also engage in social analysis: how do I participate in structures that perpetuate violence? Economic exploitation, racism and other forms of discrimination, the destruction of the environment and contribution to climate change are all forms of violence. When we vote for leaders who spend trillions of dollars on weapons while failing to fund human needs, and we pay taxes into that system, we are complicit in violence.
In committing to nonviolence, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners have identified three ways nonviolence is expressed vis-à-vis violence: prevention, intervention, and restoration/reconciliation. The second step is like the sacrament of reconciliation: intervention requires naming and repenting sinful behavior. Restoration and reconciliation mean rebuilding right relationships. And prevention means developing new behaviors that seek the common good.
Nonviolence is the path to peace with justice: it produces “fruit in keeping with repentance.” As we prepare the way for the Lord, let us identify and repent of the violence in our lives.
Dan Moriarty is senior program officer for Sustainable Pathways for Peace at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. A lifelong missioner, he served previously with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Bolivia, working with Aymara youth and in prison ministry.
Featured image: A desolate scene from the desert evokes Biblical imagery. (Brian McMahon/Unsplash)