Violence begets violence. You’d think this is one of the easiest concepts to grasp in a post-modern world. Yet, we look around and find all sorts of absurd examples of violence begetting violence. Everyone seems to know that the next wave of terrorist activity in the Middle East is being nurtured by what’s happening in Gaza right now. Ukrainians who lived side by side with Russian relatives now see each other as enemies in a spite that will last generations.

The Christian story too is itself marred by violence. In the first centuries, thousands of Christians were killed and martyred for simply being followers of Jesus. This persecution continues today. On the other hand, events like the crusades, the image of conquistadores bearing cross and sword, witch-hunts against women, and the justification of wars in the name of God, all indicate a complex and at times sinful relationship with violence as a justified means to an end, however holy the latter.

Thankfully, a return to the real roots of the Gospel has brought Christianity closer to the mandate of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27). Together with the silence of Jesus in front of Pilate and on the cross, the image of Mary standing under the cross is proposed to us as an alternative to the eye for an eye philosophy that seems to still be a dominant narrative in our personal and international relationships. A few years ago, Ronald Rolheiser captured the complex and intense struggle that Mary faced at the death of her son:

In essence, Mary couldn’t stop the crucifixion but she could stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, heartlessness, and anger that caused it and which surround it. And she helped stop these by refusing to give back in kind, by transforming rather than transmitting them, by swallowing hard and (literally) eating them rather than giving them back, as everyone else was doing…

We can’t stop the crucifixion but we can help stop some of the hatred, anger, and bitterness that surrounds it

Sometimes darkness has its hour and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Sometimes the blind, wounded forces of jealousy, bitterness, violence, and sin cannot, for that moment, be stopped. But, like Mary under the cross, we are asked to “stand” under them, not in passivity and weakness, but in strength, knowing that we can’t stop the crucifixion but we can help stop some of the hatred, anger, and bitterness that surrounds it. (Rolheiser, 2006).

Does this hold true only for the figure of Mary, who takes centre stage later this week with the processions of Our Lady of Sorrows?

My own personal pastoral experience suggests otherwise. I have met brave women who have decided that the intergenerational cycle of abuse and trauma in their families stops with them: they will not pass it on to their children; men of courage who become better parents than their ancestors could ever dream to be; holy men and women of God who shut up rather than rant, who contain pain rather than spew gossip, hatred and bitterness; men and women in all walks of life who say to the world, this violence stops with me, right now.

Like Our Lady of Sorrows, standing under the cross but refusing to reply to violence with violence, they are the true saints of our days, who make the hope and peace of Easter possible once more.

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