Euromaidan and loving our enemies

MT 5:38-48

I usually avoid talking about political and civil conflicts, particularly in homilies. Frankly, I usually do not know enough about what is happening so I don't want to sound more foolish than I normally do. Also, there is always a risk of oversimplifying a complex situation, labeling one side as good and the other as bad. Today I am going to make an exception. In the past week, events in Ukraine have caught the world’s attention. As many of you will know, since November there have been mass, anti-government protests. At times the government has brutally responded to the protests with violence. Though most protesters have been peaceful, some have chosen to respond with more violence. As a result, approximately 100 protesters and 15 officers have been killed. Many hundreds have been wounded.
Source: Lystopad
There are a two reasons why I want to talk about the conflict in Ukraine today:
  1. In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks to us about conflicts and how we should respond to our enemy. He stresses the importance of responding to injustice and violence in a non-violent way. Jesus also gives us the difficult teaching that we should love our enemy and pray for them. Today’s gospel obviously sheds a lot of light on what is happening in Ukraine. In fact, it has been very interesting to notice that the Church, both Catholic and Orthodox, has played an important role in trying to mediate the conflict. The Church, including bishops and priests, have stood alongside protesters against a government which seems to have real problems needing to be fixed. While doing this, however, the Church has stressed the need of the protesters to behave in a non-violent way and even to love their enemy in the conflict. They are challenging both sides to follow Jesus’ teaching in the gospel.
  2. By looking at the more extreme case in the Ukraine and how Jesus’ teaching applies there, I hope that we can learn how best to proceed in the smaller conflicts of life that we find ourselves. We all have “enemies”, people who have hurt us and against whom we harbor some hard feelings.
Source: Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/
First, we need to realize that responding to aggression or injustice with non-violence takes a lot of courage and strength. In the back of our mind we associate Jesus' command to turn the other cheek with weakness and passivity. If someone hurts us, we usually want to retaliate and hurt them back, to take “an eye for an eye”. We can think that fighting back is the stronger thing to do.  Recently I was struck by a picture (see it here) I saw from the protests in the Ukraine. This picture showed a priest who was also a protester. His face and physique are impressive - he looks like he would be at home in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. He wears an expression that is at the same time resolute and exhausted. He looked battle-worn. He carries a gas mask and a ski mask to protect himself from teargas. With his right hand he carries a large metal shield. In his left hand he carries a crucifix. When I saw this picture I thought, “that is what non-violent resistance looks like”. Turning the other cheek does not mean that we let ourselves be doormats. This priests was standing up against injustice courageously. He was not responding with violence, either physical or verbal. His presence sent a clear message: what the government is doing is wrong and will not be tolerated; we might have to suffer, but we will not back down. Acting this way takes great courage and strength.

Non-violent resistance is effective because it unmasks evil, letting people see the injustice for what it is. Have you ever tried investigating the genesis and history of a particular way? It can be extremely difficult to put your finger on the cause of the conflict and see who actually started it. A new injustice is usually just a response to an old one. A new war is usually just a continuation of an old war. Ultimately, violence breeds more violence. As Gandhi famously said, “an eye for an eye only makes the world go blind”. It seems that the protesters in Ukraine are having success. Their cause has caught the attention of the world and as a result the government has begun to meet their demands. Why have they succeeded? I think it is the peaceful protests which have made the difference. If the protesters were all violent, then their cause would not have been taken seriously. What caught the world’s attention was the brutal way in which the government responded to the protests. When the government started to open fire on unarmed civilians the world took notice and thought, maybe there is something to the claims of the protesters. Maybe the government is in fact corrupt and oppressive. The non-violent resistance unmasked the injustice and evil that was there, putting it on display for all to see, thereby provoking a national and international outcry.

A lasting peace will only be possible if both sides are able to love their enemy. Often we think that it is impossible to love our enemy. We need to realize that love is not a feeling. It is impossible to have nice, warm thoughts about someone who has hurt you. Love is a choice. Love is willing the good for the other person. Loving your enemy means recognizing that are a human being, created and loved by God, and sincerely praying that God bless them and care for them. In the past few days since the protesters have begun making progress, I have noticed a disturbing trend: many are calling for revenge against the government. I read one interview with a man holding a baseball bat who explained what he would do to the president with that bat if he ever got a hold of him. Injustices have been committed, but how will the people of Ukraine proceed? If the protesters now seek revenge and retribution, they will only turn into oppressors themselves. There will be no peace. If they are able to follow the teaching of Jesus and love their enemies, see them as their brothers and sisters and forgive them, there is hope that a lasting peace can be found.
Source: Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/
In order to love our enemies and respond to injustices in a non-violent way, we need the help of Jesus. Jesus Himself was born into a world oppressed by the Romans. Some Jews were calling for a violent revolution. Many hoped that Jesus would be the man to lead such a revolt. Jesus chose the path of love, forgiveness and non-violence instead. He did not fight those who arrested Him. He forgave those who put Him to death. In the end, His strategy was victorious. He defeated sin and death, rising from the dead. The Roman Empire is long gone, while the community He founded continues to be a strong force transforming the world. In order to follow Jesus example, we will need His help, His grace. The priest in the picture, who was holding a crucifix in one hand, understood this. The Church leaders, who set up mobile “tent-chapels” where protesters could come and pray, understood this. On the cross Jesus taught us a great tip for how to love our enemies. Remember that He said, “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Jesus made excuses for His enemies. It helps if we do the same. If someone hurts us, it is helpful to remind ourselves that they are probably hurting people themselves. Forgive them because they cannot help themselves, they do not know what they are doing. Loving our enemies and responding non-violently to injustices requires the help of Jesus.

Today let us pray for the people of Ukraine, that a peaceful resolution may be found to the conflict. Let us also look at a particular conflict that we are experiencing in our own life. Who has hurt us recently? Who is our enemy? Maybe a co-worker, boss, friend or family member. Remember that following Jesus’ teaching is the only thing that will bring lasting peace to our hearts and the conflict. Let us resist the urge to try to hurt them back by our words our action. Let us try to love and forgive them instead, perhaps by trying to see their own woundedness as Christ was able to do.  Jesus, help us to live this challenging but necessary call!