Vowing Nonviolence: What Does It Mean?

Vowing Nonviolence: What Does It Mean? May 18, 2014

This weekend, I stood with my local Pax Christi chapter, as well as a sizeable number of parishioners at the church where we meet, to take Pax Christi USA’s Vow of Nonviolence.  The text of the vow is available through the above link, but I will also reproduce it in full here.

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…You have learned how it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.”

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.

I might have worded this slightly differently if I had written it or maybe if I had said it individually: in a Trinitarian formula I generally prefer using “Father”, which strikes me as more personal than “Creator” and somehow also more robust (maybe because of its consistent place in the tradition of such formulae, not to mention scripture); I also would have preferred the word “violence” be substituted for “war” because it encompasses much more, not least the subtler workings of violence in “my own heart”.

But these are just quibbles over words, and all I actually had to say was “I will” to each point anyway.  My one real qualm, which had me considering not taking the vow, was the nagging question of whether it would actually result in my doing anything differently.  This is not because I think I’m already fulfilling everything this vow promises – far from it.  It’s because I already know that I believe wholeheartedly in the content of these promises but have long struggled to fulfill them in practice.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to the same level of self-sacrifice to which my erstwhile colleague Mark Gordon once declared his intention in starkly concrete terms, nor have I even worked out exactly what that would entail in my own life.  Yet even the vow I took, which looks vague and perhaps a bit anemic by comparison, is quickly being tested – starting at Mass itself, as my relentlessly critical mind tried to convince me that my musical and architectural preferences were worthy distractions from being fed by my Lord so that I may seek to follow him.  It may well be tested again when next I meet with a handful of others who took the same vow along with me.  And of course, in addition to such flesh-and-blood encounters, I expect my renewed commitment will also be tested in these comboxes.  I don’t doubt that my interlocutors here will not hesitate to hold me accountable, and I hope that they will do so in charity and truth and that I will respond likewise.

Perhaps this vow we made was nothing more or less than a reminder of the same promises we entered into at baptism and reaffirmed at confirmation, and have reencountered in every meeting of Christ in the Eucharist, and recommitted to whenever we seek reconciliation by confessing our sins, and which some of us may pledge ourselves to in a particular vocation of marriage or ordination, and with which we all hope to be anointed when in danger or in need of healing.

Perhaps it is the same vow we make every time we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

That, at least, is what I hope it means.


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