What do we do about the violence?
Most of us, even those of us in the news business, are no doubt afraid to check the latest broadcast for fear of what we might learn: What bombing, stabbing, shooting or knife attack has taken place? How many are dead? How many wounded? And then all of us have our sense of security shredded just a little more.
“The violent bear it away” is a passage from Matthew’s Gospel. It is also the title of a novel by the late Catholic author, Flannery O’Connor. I confess that, when I read the book in college, I didn’t get too much out of it. However, I do know that one of her points was that we are all offered chances to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth. When we don’t rise to that challenge, when we fail to work with God’s grace, violence overwhelms peace just a little more.
The passage from Matthew’s Gospel has always been difficult to interpret. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Kevin Spinale, wrote about it in America magazine a couple of years ago, after the Boston Marathon bombing: “The original Greek of the second half of the verse reads roughly, ‘the kingdom of the heavens has suffered violence and those who are violent (perhaps “the forceful” or “they who are the antithesis to the meek”) are taking it away.’ The violent take away — they seize the kingdom of God in their effort to diminish or distort it. The violent took away the ebullient atmosphere of a sunny marathon Monday. The forceful shattered the peace of a city and inspired fear.”
The violent bear it away. We see it a lot today. And yet, we should remember that it has always been so for the Kingdom of God. The violent bore Jesus away, too, nailing him to a cross.
And yet the Kingdom of God triumphed in the end. From Jesus’ meekness, not his violence, God brought forth salvation. The meek and humble one, the lover of peace, is the one who truly bears it away.
It must be the same with us today.
We are in the midst of the Olympic Games. The motto for the games is Citius — Altius — Fortius, Latin for “faster — higher — stronger.” Most of us know those words, but we may not know that those words were first expressed by a French Dominican priest, Fr. Henri Didon, at a sporting event in 1891. Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, then adopted them as the Olympic motto.
At the Olympic Games — and Paralympic Games that will follow them — the violent do not bear it away. That prize belongs to the ones with dedication, sportsmanship, endurance. They bear away the medals and the accolades. And they bear away something more.
On Aug. 2, Pope Francis addressed all those who were about to participate in the Olympic Games.
“I hope that the spirit of the Olympic Games inspires all — participants and spectators — to ‘fight the good fight,’” he said, “and finish the race together (2Tim 4, 7-8), desiring to obtain as a prize, not a medal, but something much more precious: the construction of a civilization in which solidarity reigns and is based upon the recognition that we are all members of the same human family, regardless of the differences of culture, skin color or religion.”
So when the violent — as they will continue to do — seek to bear it away, let us also endure and finish the race to the Kingdom together, regardless of “culture, skin color or religion.”