Issue XXII April 2016
Living the Light: Gospel Nonviolence in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
This is the third article in the Living the Light series. Jesus rejected using violence for any purpose, which always hurts a beloved child of God. Jesus lived the Merciful Love of God and taught a way for other humans to do the same. With Dr. Montessori’s approach to nonviolent nurturing of children and a scholarly understanding of Jesus’ rejection of violence we continue our quest. Now we look at Gospel Nonviolence in the presentations of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
by Peg Burns and Catherine Maresca
Peg Burns and her husband Greg Kerbawy created Our Golden Thread curriculum. See http://www.ourgoldenthread.org/ to explore their work and download free resources. Peg is a catechist whose work includes promoting a better understanding of Jesus’ Nonviolent Way.
Catherine Maresca is the Director of the Center for Children and Theology, and has been a catechist since 1981 and formation leader since 1987 using the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Introduction to the Series
The call of Jesus to nonviolence is clear. He shares his light and love with us, with their power to overcome darkness and hatred, so that we will in turn offer it to others. We work with him to build the Parousia, following his way of nonviolent love for all. As catechists we model and proclaim that love in age-appropriate ways. We are helped in four ways: the methodology and vision of Maria Montessori, theologians’ work on Gospel nonviolence, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and the natural and inborn capacity of the human brain for compassion. With this help we do have the capacity to be light in exactly the way Jesus asked us to be Light. This article focuses on the presentations of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd that communicate Jesus Nonviolent Way.
Part III: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Presentations
So far we have looked at Dr. Montessori’s method, her help to life, which honors the dignity and sacredness of the child by not putting the child under the dominative power of the adult. We noticed that Dr. Montessori stood as a world leader in education as well as in the area of peace, lecturing and writing on that topic. Her method, in her own appraisal, was the nonviolent revolution precisely because the child, in being allowed the freedom to gracefully unfold through purposeful interaction in the prepared environment knew inner peace, was nurtured into internal peace with a conscious awareness of the world as one community.
We then noticed that the kind of peace that Dr. Montessori preached and nurtured within the child, a peace without violence, was also the kind of peace scripture scholars acknowledge as the way of Jesus. His peace flows from relationship with God who is Love. It seems strange to write the words ‘peace without violence’. So many of us Christians are accustomed to using violence to achieve a multiplicity of goals, including the goal we call peace. But Jesus rejected using violence for any purpose, which always hurts a beloved child of God. Jesus lived the Merciful Love of God and taught a way for other humans to do the same. Jesus lived in the patience and providence of God’s Love. So with Dr. Montessori’s approach to nonviolent nurturing of children and a scholarly understanding of Jesus’ rejection of violence we continue our quest. Now we look at specific presentations in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Where is Gospel Nonviolence in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd?
There are no presentations that justify or lead in any way to the justification of using violence to achieve any end. Nor is there a theology of violence in any way whatsoever. In fact, the exact opposite is what is found. It seems to me that a significant way—for adults— to look at presentations regarding our topic revolve around three general notions directly connected to the use of violence: Who is not included in God’s care? (because this is an essential part of the willingness to use violence); Can we ever hurt others? (because that is what violence of any sort does); and What is the importance of “now”? (because we humans forget God’s patience and abandon God’s way).
Who is Not Included In God’s Love?
The Good Shepherd
Walking into my Level I atrium I immediately saw in the center of the room the Good Shepherd materials. The sheep, called by name, belong to God. They are personally called, individually known, yet live in community, belonging to God. And who are those sheep? Not animals on the hillside, not just my family and friends, not even just the people of my country; they are people from all nationalities and religions. Every human being is part of the family of God.
The Kindom Parables
Near the Good Shepherd is the shelf of parables about the Kindom of God. These striking verses invite us to explore a Kindom whose tiny beginning contains an astonishing unseen force (the Mustard Seed); that grows through transformation rather than violence (the Leaven); whose beauty and value inspires letting go rather than greed (the Pearl of Great Price); and that is hidden in all living things and in the earth itself (the Leaven and the Hidden Treasure). These Kindom values are reflected in the humble life of Jesus: his death transformed into risen life; his rejection of the temptation to be rich, powerful, or self-serving; and his pointing to each person and creation itself as filled with the presence of God.
Moving deeper into the atrium I saw a sign, the Paschal candle, whose light is available to all. Jesus came for all. Perhaps the most joyful of all the presentations is the receiving of this light. Though it spreads to many children I have never heard a child express concern about who is receiving the light or that the Light is not abundant enough to be shared. There is always joy in the communal dimension of Baptism; always willingness to make room for “the many”.
Gestures of the Mass
Turning to the right I came to the Gestures materials where a bright yellow card immediately caught my eye, The Preparation of the Chalice. Who is in the chalice? And with whom? This is the “mysterious union of Christ with humankind” where “we must lose ourselves in Jesus” as Sofia Cavalletti relates in the theology and the words of Massimo on page 92 of Religious Potential of the Child. When we lose ourselves in Jesus we are preparing for the other Gestures of the Mass. The Epiclesis, where we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The Offering, where we offer ourselves with Jesus and all other humans, past, present, and future. This offering is followed by the lived expression of peace, in Jesus’ way, to those around us, and a sign of our desire for this same peace throughout all peoples. In Level II we meditate on the Broken Bread as the source of our peace and unity. There is one Body, one Bread, one Peace. All humans are included as those in the atrium hold hands and think about the people close to us, the people in our city, in our country, in our world. We remember those who have died and those still to come. Jesus is our source of peace.
The True Vine
In Level II, during the preparation for Eucharist and Reconciliation all of these signs come together in the image of the True Vine. “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15, 5). With these simple words Jesus helps us to grasp the communion we share with God and one another. The same life and light and Spirit flows through us all; we are connected. Peace is the fruit of this communion. No one is excluded. In every presentation there is clarity that God is God of, and for, all human beings.
The Hebrew Scriptures
In Level III, the Gospels and life of Jesus are set in the context of the Jewish people and the Hebrew Scriptures. As a Jew, Jesus had come to know God’s universal love. In Creation, all of humankind are blessed and asked to participate in bringing forth life in the world. In the Great Flood, all of creation is promised that God will not destroy the earth, and humankind is warned that they will be accountable for any lifeblood they spill. Abraham is called to be a source of blessing for all the nations. When he offers his son, Isaac, his hand is stayed with the words, “Do not do the least thing to him” (Genesis 23, 12). At Mt. Sinai, the people receive the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” And the prophets are the source of many of the maxims Jesus offered. This understanding of God’s nonviolent love develops in the context of a violent world, little by little, and is clearly expressed by Jesus, despite the setting of a violent empire.
Can We Ever Hurt Others?
I approached the shelf of parables and noticed my favorite. Which one proved to be neighbor to the hurting man at the side of the road? We must, in this life, assume that there are times when bandits strike. So, the bandits are a type of enemy to be prayed for and loved. More to the point in this presentation is the example of love shown where mutual hatred between Samaritan and Jew normally existed. The Samaritan could have killed this enemy, too incapacitated for self-defense. Instead the Samaritan’s external behavior evidences a transformed internal disposition through empathy for the suffering human being. Love responds to need, even to someone from whom only hate would be expected, a member of the group detested more than pagans.
When I moved to the Maxims cabinet, close to the prayer table, I was humbled by their clarity. It reminds me of an older student who said, “How can Christians misinterpret the teaching of Jesus? It is so obvious.” We remember from the second article of this series that scholars agree that Jesus was Nonviolent and imparted that “terribly terse, totally unexplained, in-your-face demand, ‘love your enemies’. . .” And the words mean just what we’d expect them to mean. They mean what children understand them to mean! We are offered great blessings in listening to God with children. That maxim is not alone in its message. “Do good to those who hate you.” “Forgive seventy times seven.” In Light on the Gospels Rev. John L. McKenzie says “…the question asks how many times one is obligated to forgive in order to fulfill the obligation of forgiveness, and forgiveness is no longer required. Seven multiplied by itself signifies an indefinite time; there is never a point at which forgiveness is no longer required” (p, 55). We can consider in broader terms some of the other Maxims. The humility necessary to live Jesus’ Way of Love comes through in how we are to do acts of charity. There is a message about the human body, the human being. If my body is a temple so is the body of each human being. Be attentive always to the needs of others by not turning your back on those in need. All of these “flesh out” or put real human beings in action with the kind of love that comprises a relationship to God that is Gospel Nonviolence.
With one more Maxim in my hand I moved to the Last Supper material. In this presentation we come in direct contact with Jesus’ way of Love. Jesus adds new words, new Life to the meal. He anticipates his death and transforms it into a gift of himself to God and to all people. Perhaps most challenging of all the Maxims is “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is given in Jesus’ words as a “new commandment.” There was not retaliation. There was not revenge. There was not pride. There was living as a Son of the Father.
City of Jerusalem
After the Last Supper Jesus walked out into the night; He lived what he spoke; His next steps were towards His death. The more I use this material with young children the more I am struck by its power: A real human being living Nonviolent Love, walking around town as I do. If it exists in history it is also possible now. Will I be called upon to live Jesus’ Way by offering my life in my city? At each step he had enemies he could have used violence against to save himself. If anyone had a reason for self-defense it was Jesus. But Jesus refused to draw the sword and offered forgiveness instead.
What is the Importance of “Now”?
Obliviousness to time seems to be a factor in the pervasive joy bubbling from young children of Level I atria. Being loved is synonymous with all is well. Though the young child lives in the beauty of being loved now, the older child begins to feel time as pressure, and a limited resource.
Violence is frequently justified because of something that is desired “now.” We are consumed with the object of our desire. We see this at every level of society, the very small world of our individual lives and the working of large societies. Against the felt impatience that awakens in older children we approach the mystery of God’s patience in the Fettuccia and the Strip of the Gifts. We take as much time as the children can tolerate to unroll the ribbon. We savor the variety of gifts with which the earth is infused to meet the needs and enjoyment of human beings. God’s overwhelming, patient love captures us. The only ‘Now’ that becomes important in the midst of such love is that I am unconditionally loved and personally part of God’s Kindom. This is the relationship which Jesus shared with His Father and revealed to us. This is what is at the heart of Rev. Emmanuel’s comment:
To “put on the mind of Christ” is indeed to put on a mind that rejects violence and refuses to condone or cultivate the will to kill. But in the first instance the mind of Christ is not a “No” to violence or greed or to anything else. The center, the circumference and everything in between of the mind of Christ is a “Yes” to Abba, the true God who is unconditional Love and everlasting Mercy. This, accordingly, is also the Alpha and the Omega of all Christian nonviolence (Personal comment to Burns).
Sofia Cavalletti understood that moral choices are made in the context of a relationship, and that God initiates relationship through gifts of love. God, who is love, permeates our lives freely, constantly, and for all. In response, we begin to love in return, and to connect our choices to that relationship. Good choices cannot be forced – that would also be a form of violence. But the words of Scripture and the life of Jesus show us the Way to live in relationship with God, with others, and with creation.
History of the Kindom of God Timelines
The participation of humankind in God’s plan for universal communion through our work, our cultures and our religions is explored in the Plan of God in Level III. As we grasp God’s vision for the fullness of the Kindom we realize we can help to bring it to fruition. Sofia writes in the material, “Every division is against the Plan of God, which is to establish a cosmic communion that embraces heaven and earth, all people and all things. Every act that creates communion, peace, and harmony between heaven and earth, between all people and between all things is according to the Plan of God.” This is the choice before us, and the children are eager to be Kindom builders.
The three timelines, the Fettuccia, the Gifts, and the Plan of God, are steeped in history and moving towards the Parousia – or the fullness of God’s Kindom. They offer hope and direction to us now, when we are tempted to emulate models of greed and violence rather than the Way of Jesus, and assure us that the Kindom we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer will indeed come.
The cardinal virtues of prudence, temperence, justice and fortitude in Level III, along with their sister virtues help us discern Jesus’ Way of Nonviolence, refrain from harm and hatred, practice unconditional love, and endure as Jesus did. Models (or the lack thereof) from the Bible, the lives of the Saints, and our contemporaries inspire us along the way.
For example, in this photo, three men hold a censer taken from the rubble of the Catholic Cathedral of Nagasaki destroyed by Americans in World War II on August 9, 1945. Fr. George Zabelka, the Reluctant Prophet, (on left) is an example of the virtue of Penitence. He repented his participation in the evil of war as a military chaplain who blessed the bombs and bombers; the bombing of the Nagasaki Cathedral killed many Japanese Catholics. Later in life he returned to Japan to ask for forgiveness. Professor Gordon Zahn, (on right) is an example of Prudence. As a young man he refused to learn how to kill humans, refused to go to war, instead he registered as a Conscientious Objector. Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, (center), is an example of Fortitude, for living his life as a prophet of Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, preaching and teaching. He was instrumental in Fr. George’s conversion from military chaplain to proclaimer of Jesus’ Nonviolent Love.
Moving towards the door of the atrium ready to turn off the light, I am amazed at the blessings available to us. There is brilliance behind the pedagogy of Montessori’s help to life. Scripture scholarship clarifies Jesus’ rejection of violence. There is total consistency between this Truth and the presentations of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The gentleness and essentiality of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd presentations allows this Truth to take root inside us. If we are open, Jesus’ Way of Peace, His Nonviolent Love, fills us and touches the world through us.
But the world is so filled with violence. Is this because Jesus’ Way goes against the capabilities of our very bodies? Must we resign ourselves to mere moments of living Jesus’ Peace? Is His peace possible only if we have expectations of a once in a lifetime experience of it? Is the violence we see all around us inevitable despite our very best efforts? Is our neurobiology a built-in nemesis? Our final article will address the topic of neurobiology and peace. We think it will serve to increase your wonder at the graciousness of our God who is Love, who gave us the Son, a human being who lived nonviolent love.
McKenzie, John L. Rev. Light on the Gospels, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, , 2008).